Tuesday, 17 April 2012

What’s in a name?

A friend mentioned the writer Helen Garner to me a week ago, and on Saturday I picked up a book of her stories in a second-hand bookshop and what have I been doing, not reading this lady? She is seriously, liberatingly good.

Clearly, my radar hasn’t been operating properly. It’s a cheap model and it gets confused by similarity of names. Helen Gardner, of course, even though a different thing and now deceased, but also Helen Simpson, also short stories. And then Mona Simpson, let alone Louis Simpson. Tim Lott, Toby Litt. Zadie Smith, Ali Smith, Monica Ali. All the Penelopes – Fitzgerald, Mortimer, Gilliatt. Alistair Elliot, Andrew Elliott. I did once, at a party, and an hour or so into that party, congratulate a certain author on a book that he’d written and then, as by fits and starts a conversation proceeded, realise that the book had been written by someone else, of roughly the same gender and age and size, but that’s a different thing. This is just about names. It does help, I think, to factor in a high-scoring Scrabble letter or two. K, Z: August Kleinzahler, inimitable.

(But titles too. Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín. The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster. Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem. A Tree Grows in, Last Exit to, of course, and others. A Night in Brooklyn, D. Nurkse, published in the US in July. There is no copyright on titles; you could call your next book King Lear.)

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