21 March 2022

Joan Suter, Angus Hall, and the Collector in Me



I've got several paying projects on the go, all with tight deadlines, meaning there won't be any reviews here for the next month or so. Something to do with feeding the family, you understand.

However, I did want to share a few things about one of those paying projects: a review of Joan Suter's novel East of Temple Bar for my column in Canadian Notes & Queries

Until this year, Joan Suter's name meant nothing to me; I encountered it while researching Joan Walker, whose 1957 novel Repent at Leisure I reviewed here in January. Not much has been written about Walker or her career; most of what has, jacket copy included, refers to Repent at Leisure as a debut novel.

Marriage of Harlequin
Joan Walker
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1962
I have Daryn Wright and Karen Huenemann to thank for setting me straight. Their Joan Walker entry at Canada's Early Women Writers brings the revelation that Repent at Leisure wasn't the author's first novel, or even the second, but the third. Published in 1946 under her maiden name, East of Temple Bar was Walker's true debut. The same year saw her follow-up, Murder by Accident, which appeared under the pseudonym "Leonie Mason."


Copies of East of Temple Bar aren't plentiful, but they are inexpensive. I wanted the dust jacket, so and splurged all of £7.50 on mine. Money well spent, it brought this front flap:


East of Temple Bar was published in London by C & J Temple. A fragile pale green hardcover with thin pages, its worthy of study by those interested in supply constraints faced by printers in post-war England. My copy, purchased online from London's Small Library Company, once belonged to British novelist Angus Hall (1932-2009). As he would have been thirteen or fourteen when it was published, I'm guessing Hall bought it used when he was a young Fleet Street journalist.

East of Temple Bar revolves around Eve Smith and Hugh Fenwick, two friends who meet while working on Fleet Street. Like Hugh, Angus Hall became a film and theatre critic. Like Eve, he eventually left Fleet Street for a life as a novelist.


Hall's first novel, Love in Smoky Regions, was published in 1962 by Constable. It appears to have been very well-received; just look at the TLS quote on the cover of this paperback edition:


The High-Bouncing Lover (Hammond, 1966) was his second novel. Apparently, it's about a failed writer. I can't help but note that The High-Bouncing Lover was one of the working titles for The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's first commercial failure.

By the time the 'seventies hit, Hall had made a reputation for himself as a horror writer. His 1969 novel Devilday was adapted to the screen as Madhouse (1974), starring Vincent Price.


He also wrote the novelization of this 1971 Hammer Horror:


And then there's this, which may frighten some readers:


I count sixteen titles in total, though it's hard to say for certain. Sadly, like Joan Walker (née Suter), Angus Hall is more or less forgotten. What remains of his personal library now rests with the Small Library Company. How it ended up there is an interesting story, told through this Abebooks podcast. One of the Company'a goals is "to find good homes for the books."

Angus Hall's copy of East of Temple Bar has found a good home on my Upper Canadian bookshelves. My only disappointment is that he didn't write his name in it.

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14 March 2022

The Dustiest Bookcase: V is for van Vogt



Destination: Universe
A.E. van Vogt
New York: Signet, 1953
160 pages

The Dustiest Bookcase series is meant to highlight books I've had forever, and have always meant to read and review, but haven't. Destination: Universe is a cheat. It was given to me just last year by someone who knew I liked vintage paperbacks. The pages are loose, the cover is more than scuffed, and still I'm happy to have it, despite my previous encounters with the author.

In the fourteen-year history of the Dusty Bookcase, I've given van Vogt two kicks at the can. I was first dawn into his orbit in by the 1952 Harlequin cover of The House That Stood Still.

(In all seriousness, WTF, Harlequin?)

I disliked The House That Stood Still so much that I included it in my book The Dusty Bookcase. Then gave van Vogt a second chance with Masters of Time, about which I remember nothing. This old review suggests I was unimpressed.


Philip K. Dick was an admirer of van Vogt. I'm not – not yet at least – though I've enjoyed bits of his writing. The beginning of The House That Stood Still reads like pretty good post-war noir pulp before becoming a muddled mess. That van Vogt had a habit of cobbling together disparate short stories for resale as novels may explain my dissatisfaction.

Destination: Universe looks promising as a collection of ten short stories first published in Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, the Avon Fantasy Reader, and similar publications. As such, there should be no awkward couplings or ménages à trois.


"Want to take a rocket ship tour into space that lasts 500 years?"

Not really.

Still, I look forward to reading this collection.

I'll read it this year.

Ten stories.

Ten more kicks at the can.

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02 March 2022

Lunar Attractions; or, The Leacock I Like



Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy
Stephen Leacock
Toronto: Gundy, 1915
282 pages

My introduction to Stephen Leacock came through a copy of Laugh With Leacock belonging to my father. A squat mass market paperback, it sat on peach crate shelving in our basement. As a child, I was drawn to its cartoon cover.

 No pun intended.

Montreal: Pocket Books, 1946
First published by Dodd, Mead in 1930
The scene depicted comes from "The Hallucination of Mr. Butt," which in turn comes from "Afternoon Adventures in My Club," which first appeared in book form in Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy, which I read for the first time last week.

Made me laugh.

"The Hallucination of Mr. Butt" is one of seven tales the narrator tells of fellow club members. Butt (his first name is never disclosed) sees himself as a most generous and self-sacrificing person, ever ready to assist others. In the episode covered, he's setting out to help the Everleigh Joneses:
“Isn’t it rather late to go there?” I protested.
     “My dear fellow,” said Mr. Butt warmly, “I don’t mind that a bit. The way I look at it is, here are these two young people, only married a few weeks, just moving into their new house, everything probably upside down, no one there but themselves, no one to cheer them up,”—he was wriggling into his raincoat as he spoke and working himself into a frenzy of benevolence,—“good gracious, I only learned at dinner time that they had come to town, or I’d have been out there days ago,—days ago-”
The night is cold, and rainy, and dark, but after knocking on several doors – "‘Do you know where the Everleigh Joneses live?’ They didn’t. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘go back to bed. Don’t bother to come down.’" – Butt succeeds in finding the newlyweds' house. At the club the next day, Butt shares what followed:
"Hullo," I called out; "it’s Butt." "I’m awfully sorry," he said, "we’ve gone to bed." "My dear boy," I called back, "don’t apologize at all. Throw me down the key and I’ll wait while you dress. I don’t mind a bit."
     "Just think of it," continued Mr. Butt, “those two poor souls going to bed at half past ten, through sheer dullness! By George, I was glad I’d come." ‘Now then,’ I said to myself, ‘let’s cheer them up a little, let’s make things a little brighter here.’"
Butt visits the Everleigh Joneses on a near-daily basis, rolling up his sleeves to help them settle in – "got the pictures up first—they’d been trying to put them up by themselves in the morning. I had to take down every one of them—not a single one right." Ultimately dissatisfied, he has them move to a downtown flat – "I like an apartment far better than a house" – when tragedy strikes:
“'He’s ill—some sort of fever—poor chap— been ill three days, and they never told me or sent for me—just like their grit—meant to fight it out alone. I’m going out there at once.” From day to day I had reports from Mr. Butt of the progress of Jones’s illness. “I sit with him every day,” he said. “Poor chap,—he was very bad yesterday for a while, —mind wandered—quite delirious—I could hear him from the next room—seemed to think some one was hunting him—‘Is that damn old fool gone,’ I heard him say. “I went in and soothed him. ‘There is no one here, my dear boy,’ I said, ‘no one, only Butt.’ He turned over and groaned.
That's not the end of Everleigh Jones, nor is it the conclusion of the story. Much as I like "The Hallucination of Mr. Butt," it is far from the best in Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy; it isn't even the best of "Afternoon Adventures in My Club." That distinction belongs to "The Spiritual Outlook of Mr. Doomer," whose titular character is first depicted looking gloomily out the club library's windows. He is a man saddened by, as he puts it, "the sense of the irrevocability of death and the changes that must come after it.” “You think of these things a great deal, Mr. Doomer?” the narrator asks.
“I do,” he answered. “It may be that it is something in my temperament, I suppose one would call it a sort of spiritual mindedness. But I think of it all constantly. Often as I stand here beside the window and see these cars go by”— he indicated a passing street car —“I cannot but realise that the time will come when I am no longer a managing director and wonder whether they will keep on trying to hold the dividend down by improving the rolling stock or will declare profits to inflate the securities. These mysteries beyond the grave fascinate me, sir. Death is a mysterious thing.”
"The Hallucination of Mr. Butt" is the only story from Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy to feature in Laugh With Leacock, which according to the back cover of my father's copy is "the cream of Stephen Leacock's humor [sic]." It is also the only story to make it into The Leacock Roundabout, Laugh With Leacock's successor.  

New York: Dodd, Mead, 1956
What I've coming to realise is that my taste in Leacock is markedly different than those of the anthologists. As the covers of Laugh With Leacock and The Leacock Roundabout suggest, the stories contained provide good-natured laughs; black humour has no place.

I've worked as an anthologist myself, so understand the constraints, one of which is length. Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy begins with "Spoof."


At twenty-four pages, it's by far the longest piece. It appealed to me not only for the passages of Spoof Leacock provides, but as a satire of publisher marketing:
This novel represents the last word in up-to-date fiction. It is well known that the modern novel has got far beyond the point of mere story-telling. The childish attempt to interest the reader has long since been abandoned by all the best writers. They refuse to do it. The modern novel must convey a message, or else it must paint a picture, or remove a veil, or open a new chapter in human psychology. Otherwise it is no good. SPOOF does all of these things. The reader rises from its perusal perplexed, troubled, and yet so filled with information that rising itself is a difficulty.
Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy was a gathering of fairly recent magazine pieces and previously unpublished work intended to capitalise on the Christmas market. And, because it was the 1915 offering, the Great War intrudes for the first time: "The War Mania of Mr Jinks and Mr Blinks," "Last Man Out of Europe," "Sidelights on the Supermen," and "In the Good Time After the War." The last, which also happened to be the final piece in the collection, imagines the post-war as a time of great cooperation, in which political differences are non-existent. It is the weakest piece, while "Last Man Out of Europe," ranks amongst the very best. Here, Parkins, yet another member of the gentleman's club tells of the days of horror he and travelling companion Loo Jones suffered in trying to leave the continent. In Hungary when war was declared, the pair made for the nearest railway station:
“They said they’d sell us tickets. But they questioned us mighty closely; asked where we wanted to go to, what class we meant to travel by, how much luggage we had to register and so on.”
They reach Genoa only to find that it is three days until the next steamer to New York:
"Stuck it out as best we could: stayed right there in the hotel. Poor Jones was pretty well collapsed! Couldn't do anything but sleep, and eat, and sit in the piazza of the hotel."
Cutting, but not dark; it stands in such contrast with Leacock's later writing about the Great War. In our own darkening days, I recommend "The Boy Who Came Back" from The Hohenzollerns in America (Toronto: Gundy, 1919). 

An unfocussed post, I know, but then this book, like so many Leacocks is a bit of a grab bag. "Our Literary Bureau" made me laugh out loud; "Weejee the Pet Dog" is, I hope, the worst thing I'll read by the man.

My point is that there is so much more to Leacock than Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and anthology servings. Seek out the long out-of-print volumes. As with any writer, the most popular isn't necessarily the best.

Object: A nicely-proportioned hardcover, very typical of its time. My first Canadian edition was purchased three decades ago at the annual McGill Book Fair (held in Redpath Hall, mere metres away from the university's Leacock Building). Price: $1.00. At the end of the volume is found three pages of advertisements for the author's other books: Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, Behind the Beyond, Nonsense Novels, Literary Lapses, and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. These are followed by an advert for The International Studio magazine.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly – it was published in 1915, after all – my copy lacks its dust jacket (above).

Should I have expected more for a dollar?

It once belonged to a G.R. England. Going through the 949 Englands in the 1921 census, I find Gordon England (age 19), Gaspard England (age 21), George England (age 51). Gosselin England (age 71)... and that's just Quebec.

Access: Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy enjoyed several Canadian, British, and American editions before going out of print in the 'twenties. It returned in 1964 as #46 in the New Canadian Library, and remained in print well into the 'eighties. I once purchased a copy with the third series design at Eaton's in downtown Montreal, not 100 meters from the university at which Leacock taught.

Used copies of are both plentiful and inexpensive. If you've got the cash, the one to buy is offered at US$150 by a Milton, Ontario bookseller. It has the dust jacket.

01 March 2022

'March Day: Windy' by Charles Bruce


Verse for the new month by Charles Bruce, the pride of Port Shoreham, Nova Scotia. 'March Day: Windy' is one of twenty-four poems collected in The Mulgrave Road (Toronto: Macmillan, 1951), winner of the 1951 Governor General's Award for Poetry.

MARCH DAY: WIND
         This day you wonder, finding nowhere quite
         What you expect to find. The strident air
         Surrounds you like a sea of sweeping light;
         The hills and fields return you stare for stare 
         Humpbacked and grim, the giant juniper
         Bows down to scowl; across the crawling grass
         Beyond, where the twin Balm o' Gileads were,
         Two strangers halt and stiffen as you pass. 
         Something is altered here. The difference
         Between you and the blowing world is thinned.
         You turn to face the house, and common sense,
         And see a woman shouldering the wind. 
         Turn to the barn, and see an old man leaning,
         Intent to hear those droning syllables—
         Those phrases harsh and high, and wild with meaning.
         Of shouted sound from granite-throated hills.