Friday 25 September 2009

Forgotten Book - The Second Curtain

Roy Fuller was a solicitor and a poet – and there aren’t many examples of that combination around. He was also an occasional crime novelist, and his The Second Curtain is my entry for today in Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books series.

Fuller, who died in 1991, probably achieved more distinction in the legal world (he became a director of Woolwich Building Society in the days when financial institutions were trustworthy and reliable) and as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. But his crime fiction was much praised by Julian Symons, a fellow poet as well as a legendary crime guru, although I think they were good friends, and of course one is always likely to support a friend’s writing – not so much nepotism, and human nature. I suspect it was Symons’ influence which saw this 1953 novel republished as a green Penguin paperback in 1976, which is when – as a student lawyer, and even an occasional poet, as well as a crime fan – I bought it.

But Symons would never praise someone undeserving (though some of his critical comments could seem rather harsh) and there is no doubt that Fuller could write. The Second Curtain is an under-stated novel which concerns George Garner, a minor novelist who is a touch complacent and only too pleased with himself when offered the editorship of a literary quarterly.

However, George writes to an old pal called Widgery, he receives a letter from the man’s sister, telling him that Widgery has mysteriously disappeared. George decides to look into the mystery, but he finds himself coming face to face with a dangerous world for which he is ill-suited. This isn’t a story where the hero rises courageously to every challenge, and some might find it anti-climactic. I think it’s a good character study, quietly yet intelligently put together.


pattinase (abbott) said...

It sounds like an interesting novel. I like novels that are about real men rather than heroic ones.

Anonymous said...

Had completely forgotten this novel, which I read aeons ago - and loved. So thank you for the reminder; will have to see if it stands up to a second reading (suspect it will).
Writer friends always boost each other; but then, they wouldn't be friends if they disliked each other's 'voice', I suppose.
I seem to remember RF was on the board of the Woolwich pre Barclay's takeoever - ie when it was a mutual society, exclusively concerned with savings accounts + mortgage loans ... which, curiously, suddenly seems like A Very Good Thing!

Paul Beech said...

Ah ha, so you were a poet too!

Strange, isn’t it, how many crime writers started off writing poetry then dropped it along the way, almost as if poetry were a launchpad for crime! Though it seems to have worked rather the other way round with Roy Fuller; did he publish any crime after ‘Fantasy and Fugue’ in 1954?

Surely there’s a special relationship between the two forms, a common impulse to do with symmetry and wordcraft, a desire to find patterns and pin down the intangible yet still give a sense of something beyond the words. I much admire crime-writing poets such as John Harvey, James Sallis and Sophie Hannah.

As the humorous crime writer L. C. Tyler said in a 2005 interview on the PanMacmillan website:

“Poems are prose distilled into the headiest form of literature you can legally get your hands on. All good prose (and I do try to write good prose) should aspire deep down to being poetry. When a poet like Owen Sheers or Helen Dunmore writes prose, you can feel the way every word is made to count – you can feel the underlying rhythm of what they write.”

Are you ever still tempted to whittle a crafty stanza, Martin?



Martin Edwards said...

Minnie, I couldn't agree more! And I'm glad to have found someone else who has read this book.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul - it was a student thing, really! I don't think I've written any poetry since the late 70s. In those days I tried all kinds of writing, including radio plays, which I was very keen on, and jokey sketches. A long time ago.