One of my favourite novelists, now largely forgotten, is Stanley Middleton (1919–2009). He wrote 45 novels, the last published posthumously. I thought I had them all, but when reorganizing my shelves I found I was missing two, which I’ve now bought secondhand for all of £5.80. That’s probably less than I’d pay for petrol to go to the nearest library, although I shall have to deal with the usual complaint from my wife about the lack of space in our cottage.
Which of the forty-five would I recommend, in the hope of persuading other readers that this so-called ‘minor and provincial’ English novelist is worth more than many called major? Holiday was joint winner of the Booker Prize in 1974. Middleton’s ex-pupil, Philip Davis, writing an obituary in the Guardian, picked out as candidates for an omnibus selection: Harris’s Requiem (1960), A Serious Woman (1961), The Golden Evening (1968), Holiday (1974), Valley of Decision (1985), An After Dinner’s Sleep (1986), A Place to Stand (1992) and Married Past Redemption (1993).
While I wouldn’t dispute any of these, my own list would include Ends and Means (1977), Live and Learn (1996), at least one of the late novels, probably Sterner Stuff (2005), and certainly The Daysman (1984). Philip Davis may have left the first of these off his own list out of modesty, as it is dedicated to him; but it is a fine example of Middleton’s skills. The plot is cut almost to the bone, but never to incomprehensibility. It is darker in mood than some, even though it is set in the flaming summer of 1976. The central character is a philanderer, a ‘cool bastard’, and there are sexual infidelities in plenty, cruelties, suicides, breakdowns, violence against wives and husbands: not a picture of ‘middle England’ as it is usually portrayed.
The protagonist of Live and Learn
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in