David Storey was “the exemplar of the northern working-class novelist who came to prominence in the 1960s”, says Michael Prodger in the New Statesman. Storey’s first book, This Sporting Life, is considered one of the best sporting novels ever written. A fierce dissection of the hypocrisies he faced as a professional rugby league player, it was turned into a successful film starring Richard Harris. Saville won the Booker prize in 1976 and his plays were premiered at the Royal Court “when the theatre was at its most influential”.
Storey died in 2017, at the age of 83. His posthumously published memoir, A Stinging Delight (Faber £20), is “full in equal parts of vividness and pathos”. It was completed in 2012, but, “fearing the consequences of publication for his shaky mental health”, he asked his publisher to return the manuscript. “One can see why.”
The author’s extravagant talents and work ethic emerged not only from a desire to transcend the limitations of his background, but “out of a sense of atonement, of compensation, a crushing feeling of guilt”, says Catherine Taylor in the TLS. The third son of a miner, Storey was born and raised on a council estate in Wakefield. Six months before he was born, his elder brother Neville died. This devastating event so traumatised his mother, she was unable to show any affection to David. Neville’s death “changed my life”, he wrote, by “making me something other than I might have been”.
His father wanted him to be a teacher, but after grammar school Storey joined Leeds rugby league club. He then won a place at the Slade School of Art (where he was jointly awarded the summer composition prize with Paula Rego). He felt “as if he belonged neither there nor on the rugby pitch”, living a dual existence, travelling back to the north for matches at the weekend, “all the while trying to write a novel”.
Intense, “darkly humorous and frequently claustrophobic”, A Stinging Delight reflects the persistent depression that accompanied him, “like a second self”, throughout his life. It is hard to think of a recent literary autobiography that pulls so few punches or so nakedly portrays the person its author imagined himself to be, says DJ Taylor in The Times. “Its abiding quality is, in the end, a kind of fearlessness.”
Following on from his bestselling debut, The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides has written a psychological thriller steeped in Greek mythology, says Hannah Beckerman in The Observer. “Tautly plotted and impeccably paced,” The Maidens (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99) is an “intelligent and propulsive” story about a recently widowed psychotherapist, Mariana Andros, whose niece turns to her for help when her close friend is murdered at Cambridge. Mariana becomes “embroiled in the mysterious activities” of a group of female students known as the Maidens, and of their “enigmatic” professor, Edward Fosca.
“Deeper characterisation would have made this work as a study in obsession,” says Laura Wilson in The Guardian. Despite the Cambridge setting, “ancient cults and sprinklings of Euripides and John Webster, it is a rather flat-footed affair”. The novel isn’t quite as thrilling as The Silent Patient, says Christena Appleyard in The Daily Mail. But Michaelides’s writing “possesses a unique sparkle and more promise than most other writers”.
Available as an audiobook on Kobo.
Vintage fiction: White Teeth
Zadie Smith’s debut novel was a publishing sensation in 2000. Dazzled by its energy, wit and optimism, reviewers lauded the talent and ambition of its 24-year-old author. “It’s a big, splashy, populous production, reminiscent of books by Dickens and Salman Rushdie,” said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Written during Smith’s final year at Cambridge, White Teeth is set in Willesden, where she grew up – a “cacophonous” London “of curry shops and pool halls and cheap hair salons”.
Opening on New Year’s Day 1975 with an attempted suicide, it’s centred on the unlikely friendship between white working-class Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Muslim Samad Iqbal, and their efforts to marshal their “extended and very dysfunctional families”. Archie reacts to chaos and change with a genial passivity. Samad “rages against the decadence of contemporary culture” – while succumbing to an affair with a young English woman – and sends his twin sons back to Bangladesh for a “proper Muslim education”. One returns a committed Anglophile who dresses and speaks like David Niven; the other joins a radical Islamic group called Kevin (“Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation”).
Smith was deluged with literary prizes, including a Whitbread award for best first novel. White Teeth reflects a new generation for whom race is the backdrop to daily life, said Simon Hattenstone in The Guardian. Smith is “ahead of her time, representing modern London as it really is”. For once, said Hugo Barnacle in The Sunday Times, “here is a Big New Literary Find that hasn’t been oversold”.
Available as an audiobook in Audible.