BY James Eve in Critic's Guides | 06 MAY 01
Featured in
Issue 58

Lost But Not Forgotten

Dusting down some literary classics

BY James Eve in Critic's Guides | 06 MAY 01

How often do you read glowing reviews of books that subsequently vanish without trace? Were the reviewers wrong? Was the masterpiece ordinary after all? It's possible. But the fact is that many fine books disappear through neglect: they didn't conform to the fashions of the day; they weren't reviewed; their readerships were too small. And so they fell out of print and became invisible. Lost Classics (2001) consists of 75 short essays by 75 writers, each arguing for the 'classic' status of a favourite (mostly forgotten) book. The idea for the collection came from the Canadian literary journal Brick, and the editors - Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill and Esta and Linda Spalding - have assembled an impressive group of contributors. Some choices are obscure; Margaret Atwood, for example, defends Doctor Glas (1905) by the Swedish novelist Hjalmar Söderberg. Others show how insidiously and silently great books can slip from view: Andrew Pyper praises Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915), while Ronald Wright salutes Pincher Martin (1956) by William Golding - both great books currently out of favour, the first because it is so elusive (despite being a central work of Modernism), the other because it is constantly overshadowed by Lord of the Flies.

'Lost books are like dying languages: the fewer the people who remember them, the greater the risk that they will disappear for good,' write the editors in their introduction. Lost Classics is a great collective act of remembering. It deserves to resuscitate some dying reputations.