GOODBYE TO A CULT HERO. Kurt Vonnegurt, author of Slaughterhouse Five, died last night in New York at the age of 84. Farewell, Mr Kilgore -- you'll be much missed. He was a funky, imaginative writer, with works full of biting satire against modern values. A former soldier who was very anti-war, he was popular with the young. Yet he strongly engaged the attention of the critics. It wasn't an easy ride. One of his early books, Cat's Cradle (1963) sold only 500 copies. Yet now it is still in print, four decades later, and on many school reading lists.
In his honour, here's a literary game: can anyone name any other author beloved of the critics, AND popular with the general reading public?
This title could be called the John Fowles Mantle. Anyone remember him? His books, such as The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, were praised to the skies by the critics and laden with literary prizes -- and at the same time, they were popular bestsellers of the readable, paperback sort.
I have two nominations for this mantle.
One is David Lodge. His books, such as Thinks, and Paradise News, are easy to read, funny, clever books -- yet there is clear literary genius of Dickens-like stature behind them. Paradise News is a warm and thought-provoking story about a church minister who discovers that he doesn't believe in heaven. Then he gets an assignment which takes him to Hawaii, where he is buffetted by enormous amounts of tourism marketing material telling him that he has arrived in paradise.
Second, I would nominate Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and other food-themed novels. Blackberry Wine is one of the best-structured novels I have read: a perfect model for any would-be novelist writer looking for cutting-edge inspiration. Try also Five Quarters of the Orange. The first is like an excellent dessert wine; the second is a crisp, bitter espresso -- both leave a wonderful taste in the mouth.
These two authors are resolutely literary, while being popular and enormous fun to read. Can anyone name any others?