Monday, 19 August 2013


Without Lesley Glaister there would be no Gone Girl, so why have so few people heard of her?

I've often wondered what makes one author take off and another... well, not. There's money, of course. If a publisher has shelled out an arm and a leg for a book, of course they're going to invest heavily in time, effort and promotion to earn that money back. There's word of mouth, which, alone, is rarely the defining factor in success or failure, but can certainly help. And there are awards. Being shortlisted for - or in about as likely as scooping the Euromillions lottery kind of way, winning - the Costa, ManBooker, Somerset Maugham or Betty Trask, amongst others guarantees a handy cheque and a certain amount of shelf space. Richard & Judy, whilst poo-pooed by many in the literary world, may well trump the lot. But above all, there's timing. Right time + right place + right book + right person picks it up on the way through the airport = a perfect storm of circumstances that makes your book this year's Me Before You or Gone Girl.

Many of these things happened individually to the author Lesley Glaister, just, maybe, not at the right time or in the right order, and certainly not all together.

Thinking, 'Lesley who?' Well, exactly.

I discovered Glaister (think Gillian Flynn meets Erin Kelly with a liberal sprinkling of domestic horror and Patricia Highsmith's talent for brevity - a lazy description maybe, but not an inaccurate one) in the early nineties. Her first novel, Honour Thy Father won the Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask and was described by the Sunday Times as 'a true original...wife battering, incest, murder, madness and monstrosity seem a lot to pack into a slim volume but Lesley Glaister's startling short work never gets crowded.' It was quickly followed by Trick or Treat which many, including the FT, considered to be even better. Although her next novel, Digging to Australia - an Alice in Wonderland-esque lonely girl's book about Jennifer who one day decides to dig right through the centre of the earth to Australia - seemed to lose momentum a bit.

An early edition of Honour Thy Father

For years, Glaister was prolific. Digging to Australia was followed, in no particular order, by Limestone and Clay, Partial Eclipse, Sheer Blue Bliss and more. But even though Now You See Me was shortlisted for the Orange prize in 2002, somewhere along the line, something was lost. Her sales dropped away, and from the look of her covers, her publishers lost their certainty, her identity wavered. Chicklit was in the ascendant and Glaister's bleak view of the world fell from favour. When Chosen was published, in 2010, I'm ashamed to say I - an obsessive fan only a few years earlier - didn't notice.

But the book business is a cyclical thing and grim is back in. Middle class domestic horror that owes more to Glaister's work than it acknowledges is topping the book charts and (largely) female novelists who aren't afraid to probe the ugly side of human relationships are finding success. Seems to me this could be Glaister's moment.

Lesley Glaister's thirteenth novel, Little Egypt, will be published by Salt Publishing in 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Your recommendations are always spot on. Ordering now!