One of the pleasures of interviewing is research. In the time available, you read as much of the interviewee’s oeuvre – and at the end of the process you get to ask him or her questions about it. What could be better?
Occasionally, however, you’re surprised to learn that some of the interviewee’s books are out of print. And I’m not referring to minor authors here. While researching William McIlvanney for the interview that ran in the May issue, I discovered three of his novels are not available: his debut, Remedy Is None, his second novel, A Gift From Nessus, and his mid-Eighties masterpiece, The Big Man.
If I was an enterprising Scottish publisher, I’d be looking into this. Take A Gift From Nessus. Written in 1968, A Gift From Nessus has similarities with Cheever’s and Updike’s dramas of suburban malaise, but it is written in McIlvanney’s inimitable prose. It concerns a salesman, Eddie Cameron, who hates his job and his marriage but feels powerless to change his life. His indecision and carelessness ends in death. A smart publisher would reissue A Gift From Nessus with a Mad Man-esque cover to cash in on the current interest in those hard drinking and smoking pre-PC days.
It’s a scandal The Big Man is not in print, particularly now, as we head into a prolonged and nasty recession. If you want a reminder of what the last round of savage government cuts did to small communities in Scotland, track down a copy of The Big Man. The plot concerns Dan Scoular, a man who hasn’t worked since the local pit was closed. As tough as he is decent, he finds himself taking part in a bare-knuckle fight organised by gangsters. It predicts the way in which working class people from deprived areas have been made to jump, twirl, and bark for the entertainment of more moneyed classes. A line runs from The Big Man to the Beeb’s poverty-porn documentary The Scheme.
I borrowed A Gift From Nessus and Remedy Is None from the library. The library service in Edinburgh doesn’t have a copy of The Big Man, however. I had to buy a second hand edition from Amazon. Astonishing when you consider it was made into a mid-budgeted movie in 1990 starring Liam Neeson, Billy Connelly, and a young Hugh Grant.
It’s not only McIlvanney who has been bafflingly neglected. Muriel Spark has been poorly served by her publisher, Penguin. Until recently, when Virago and Carcanet, stepped in, you couldn’t get copies of Curriculum Vitae, A Far Cry From Kensington, and The Comforters. You still can’t get great Spark novels like Aiding And Abetting and The Public Image, and, now, I learn, The Complete Short Stories is out of print too.
Are there any other novels out there neglected by publishers we should know about?