When I was preparing to come to London, I was thrilled to learn that the London Literary Festival would be on from July 5 through 19. I had all sorts of images in my mind of how I would while away the days listening to wonderful authors talk while I gazed at the slow-moving waters of the Thames.
When I arrived and looked at the schedule, however, I realized I had never heard of a single author at the Literary Festival. I was surprised by my ignorance. I knew the literary world was different in the U.K., but I didn’t think it was that different.
I have tried to plunge into some new British authors, but without much success. In the U.S., I usually buy a book after I have read a few reviews or poked around on the Internet. I rarely buy a book blind.
But I didn’t have that cultural knowledge with me in England, so I bought a few books after a quick perusal. I bought The Outcast by Sadie Jones, (advertised everywhere, including in huge ads on the Underground) The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, (excellent cover and beguiling black edges) and The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark. All had great blurbs by respectable newspapers and critics on their back covers.
You can guess what has happened. So far, I haven’t managed to finish a single book. I’ve gotten 50 pages in, but none have really grabbed my attention. (That’s the least I can ask while on vacation, right?) I haven’t given up yet, but my disappointment makes me realize that the “filter” I use in the states is more effective than not.
But here is a book I plan to buy today. It won something called the Samuel Johnson Prize yesterday, a prestigious prize for non-fiction published in the U.K. The winner gets £30,000, about $60,000. The book is called The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale.
Here is a description from the press release announcing the winner:
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale, a pacy analysis of a murder case in a Wiltshire country house in 1860 which inspired detective genre writers including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
“The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a dramatic page-turning detective yarn of a real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction. Kate Summerscale has brilliantly merged scrupulous archival research with vivid storytelling that reads with the pace of a Victorian thriller. The book is a rare work of non-fiction that mimics suspense genre and leaves one gripped until the final paragraph.”
I’ll let you know what I think.