Monday, 28 February 2011


Rachel Cooke selected the 10 'best neglected literary classics' for a feature in The Observer yesterday. We at Capuchin Towers were delighted to note that not only did she crown this pantheon with The Real Charlotte, which will emerge as a new Capuchin next month, but that she also selected a title by Barbara Comyns, whose Juniper Tree we are publishing in October.

A lively series of comments has been posted in reply to the piece, many offering alternative titles or entire lists.


Friday, 25 February 2011


Most of us have ideas and associations relating to particular authors, and it's always interesting when these are refined, brought into sharper focus or even dispelled by more information. My wife and I recently watched an absorbing documentary on Edgar Allan Poe's work and life - and especially his relationship with women - called Edgar Allan Poe Love, Death and Women. This programme led me on to the short but very worthy biography by Peter Ackroyd, Poe: a Life Cut Short.

This book opens, dramatically, with the mysterious last week of Poe's life, which ended with his undiagnosed death, and the details of which have never been definitively established, beyond the great likelihood that these days were tainted by the desperate alcoholic abuse that characterised his life. Ackroyd is deft at drawing connections between the writer's life and his art, never taking this approach too far, and writing with perception and clarity throughout.

The dominating theme that emerges from the book is Poe's obsessive need to be loved, trusted and welcomed by women, although his attempts to realise this need were fatally undermined by is own behaviour and character. At times, he performed extraordinary mental, emotional and logistical juggling acts when courting such approval from different women simultaneously, especially after the death from tuberculosis at a young age of his wife (and first cousin) Virgina.

Ackroyd also briefly but helpfully discusses the range of contemporary reactions to Poe's work, and the enormous influence exercised by Poe's prose and poetry over whole genres and literary movements, from detective fiction through to the French symbolists.

We published a Poe short story collection - The Dupin Mysteries - in January 2010 which is as good a place to start your Poe research as any.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I've just finished reading Stephen Benatar's extraordinary novel, When I was Otherwise. Told largely through dialogue, but also graced by passages of quietly witty narration, the book tells the stories of three main characters. Dan - unassuming, straightforward, kind-hearted, but naive: Marsha - who clumsily attempts the roles of coquette and model wife with equal, tragi-comic results and Daisy, whose witty, waspish, overwhelming character is belied by a failure to construct an emotionally or practically rewarding life. The novel both teases and involves the reader as it makes chronological jumps to unravel the twisted skein of relationships between the three protagonists, making the book an engaging puzzle as well as a compelling read.

Benatar's gift for credible dialogue is astonishing, and he is able to bring to life and develop characters very powerfully in this way, creating scenes and atmospheres which encompass many moods, from the dark and bleak to the joyful. The book is forensic in its analysis of the blessings and pitfalls of human life, especially where growing old is concerned, but wears its author's talents very lightly, the style never seeming forced or contrived.

For anyone who loves to witness the English language being well used, and who revels in the rounded and moving depiction of characters, this is a book not to miss.

Our edition will be published in late March this year.


Monday, 21 February 2011


Firstly, apologies that my other duties and personal circumstances have combined to cause a long delay between the last post and this.

The author Mark Andresen has launched an interesting and provocative new blog, called The Pan Review. There is a link to Capuchin here, in that the name is taken from Pan's Garden, a collection of short stories by Algernon Blackwood, and we are publishing our own Blackwood compilation in May, Ancient Sorceries.

Mark's first post makes a spirited defence of the short novel and story forms, and argues that they are now more relevant modes of discourse than the classic full-length novel. This is certainly an interesting perspective and one which calls for, I think, some vigorous commenting by the blogosphere.

I hope to resume more frequent posting, so watch this space for my thoughts on one of the March Capuchins, When I was Otherwise, by Stephen Benatar.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I thought it might be jolly to pen the occasional blog looking in a little more detail at the lives of Capuchin authors. The man behind our second best-selling title - Michael Arlen and The Green Hat respectively - launches this initiative.

Arlen was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian in Bulgaria, to Armenian parents, in 1895, but established his reputation in England during the 1920s. His works were first published in magazines and took the form of essays, book reviews, personal essays, short stories, and a play. Arlen moved into the romance genre, to which he added the spices of psychology, the supernatural and horror, culminating in a defining book of short stories called These Charming People (which we published last year).

All this work coalesced into The Green Hat, which, with its (then) racy story and brilliant description of its times, propelled him to instant fame and fortune. The book became a broadway play and was filmed twice, as A Woman of Affairs and Outcast Lady. The former was a silent film starring Greta Garbo, and deliberately understated or avoided altogether what were considered the highly charged subjects of the book, this reticence also motivating the change of name.

In subsequent work, Arlen again experimented with different genres and fantastic themes, producing a dystopian novel and an adventuring detective - Gay Falcon - who became the subject of several mystery films. He never, however, recaptured the peak of success attained by The Green Hat.

The various phases and locations of Arlen's life and career brought him into contact with many notable figures, including Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Nancy Cunard and Countess Atalanta Mercati, who he married. Having had his loyalty to Britain questioned in the House of Commons (due to his Bulgarian nationality and the complications arising therefrom), Arlen moved to New York in 1946, where he died ten years later.