Recommendations from Matthew Neill Null: Andre Malraux, Mark Costello, and Henry C. Kittredge

June 12th, 2013

Matthew Neill Null, novelist and O. Henry Prize winner, wrote recently to suggest neglected works by three writers: Andre Malraux, Mark Costello, and Henry C. Kittredge:

• AndrĂ© Malraux: Anti-Memoirs (1968)

“This book has a wounded grandeur to it. One of those thick, Mailer-esque tomes that covers it all: lonely flights over the desert, lost cities and Khmer temples, the Spanish Civil War, a career as a left-wing minister to right-wring De Gaulle, life in the French Resistance, torture by the Nazis, de-colonialization up close and personal, and telling brushes with Nehru and Mao. A mandarin, swashbuckling life that, alas, we can no longer live. How accurate is this book? Well, it’s hard to tell, but that’s part of the ride. Sadly out of print. Yes, the dedication to ‘Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’ comes off as a bit precious, but one must overlook it. Bonus: The translation is by the estimable Terrence Kilmartin.”

• Mark Costello: The Murphy Stories (1973) and Middle Murphy (1993)

“Two story collections, published obscurely by the University of Illinois Press. Against a gritty Midwestern backdrop of industrial slag and soybean fields, we follow the adventures of Murphy as he navigates two-bit academic jobs, alcoholism and adultery. Think of Bruno Schulz, if Bruno Schulz were the son of a Republican ward-heeler in Decatur, Illinois. Another wonderful, forgotten writer. His prose is endlessly digressive and self-mythologizing, with these wild boomerang sentences. A cult favorite, a writer’s writer, but his work is hard to track down. Best to begin with the first volume. I believe Costello’s still out there, up in years, and hope he graces us with a third volume.”

mooncussers

• Henry C. Kittredge: Mooncussers of Cape Cod (1937)

“I found it in the rare books section of a Cape Cod library. A colorful account of people who made a living by scavenging shipwrecks. The wreckers were thought to be unsavory by most, but Kittredge’s admiration bleeds though. Reminds me of Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. Thrilling, forgotten history.”

Matthew also recommends two novels by Bruce Chatwin, who has gained a solid place for his travel books (although this is too narrow a term for them), but whose novels, particularly On the Black Hill (1982) and The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), are also worth discovering.

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