For our 200th episode, we are joined by Richard Osman: television presenter, longtime Backlisted listener, and one of the bestselling authors in the world today. We discuss Trustee from the Toolroom (1960), the final novel by Nevil Shute Norway, whose other books include A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957), widely read in his lifetime but now somewhat forgotten or ignored. How did Shute’s long and distinguished stint as an aeronautical engineer fit with his parallel career as a prominent and much-loved author? And what do his tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things have to offer us in the 21st century? Richard also shares with John and Andy what he’s been reading this week; and if you’ve been with us from the start, you will appreciate his choices all the more.
In this episode, we feature the life and work of Samuel Beckett, one of the most important and influential voices of 20th century literature. We discuss Beckett’s writing across five decades, including his essays, short stories, novels and plays: ‘Dante… Bruno. Vico… Joyce’; ‘More Pricks Than Kicks’; ‘The Unnamable’; Krapp’s Last Tape’; and the late masterpiece ‘Company’. And we also ruminate on the fact that Backlisted has now been going on (it must go on, it can’t go on, it’ll go on) for eight years, notching up nearly 200 episodes. We hope you enjoy this memorable and moving recording AKA Spool #199. John, Andy and Nicky
Pour yourself a glass of sherry and light a candle, as we dedicate this year’s Halloween special to Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), the first collection by M.R. James, probably the most celebrated and influential exponent of the weird tale. With the help of undead guests Andrew Male and Laura Varnam we illuminate the life and work of a strange and singular author, one whose writings, like the engraving in ‘The Mezzotint’, have truly taken on a life of their own.
This is a new books special episode to fill the gap before we release the Hallowe’en episode next weekend and as part of our episode 200 celebrations. In it, we each select a book we’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year. Andy says The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan (Tyrant Books) is the best novel he’s read since Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms and also his favourite; Backlisted Editor, Nicky talks about Wifedom by Anna Funder (Granta), an genre-busting account of the life Eileen Maud Blair, the first wife of George Orwell, linking it back to the themes of The True History of the First Mrs Meredith episode; and John praises Cuddy by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury), a rich and formally audacious novel based on the life and legends of St Cuthbert, the patron saint of North East England. The discussion leads us in all kinds of unexpected directions in classic Backlisted fashion.
Episode #197 is dedicated to our late friend Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago, an author in her own right and, on a couple of memorable occasions, a former guest on Backlisted. Joining us are the writer Rachel Cooke and critic and editor Lucy Scholes. Under discussion: The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives by Diane Johnson, first published in 1972 and reissued in 2020 by New York Review Books. Is this imaginative, funny, heartfelt, headstrong book a novel, a biography, an alternative history, a feminist polemic, a work of literary criticism or something else entirely? To which the answer is a far-from-straightforward: Yes. We hope you enjoy this conversation – and a unique book – as much as we did.
In this episode we discuss the controversial and ground-breaking novel, Esther Waters by the Irish novelist George Moore. We are joined by Tom Crewe, author of the prize-winning New Life (Chatto & Windus) and one of this year’s crop of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Esther Waters was first published in 1894 and is told almost entirely from the point of view of an illiterate working-class woman, who falls pregnant by a fellow servant, is abandoned by him, and decides to raise their child on her own. Telling her story allows Moore to catalogue the glamour and sordidness of 1890s London society in astonishing detail and his refusal to judge his heroine led to it being banned from W.H. Smith’s railway bookstores. Despite (or because of) this, it sold over 24,000 copies in its first year and has been in print ever since. We examine what sets Moore apart from other writers of the time, including Émile Zola, Thomas Hardy and George Gissing, why it has had such a positive influence on later admirers like James Joyce, Jean Rhys and Colm Tóibín, and how its simplicity of style and detailed presentation of Esther’s inner life feel so surprisingly contemporary.
In this episode we are delighted to welcome 2023 Booker Prize Winner Shehan Karunatilaka to discuss Kurt Vonnegut’s eleventh novel, Galapágos. First published in 1985, it is one of his most radical, intricate and humorous works, a Darwinian satire narrated by a ghost from a million years in the future.
Author and illustrator Rose Blake and writer and musician Bob Stanley (Saint Etienne) joined Andy and John at the Greenman festival in Wales on August 18th 2023 to discuss Barry Hines’s second novel A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) and, inevitably, the film adaptation Kes (1969), directed by Ken Loach from a screenplay by Hines himself. This episode was recorded in front of a large crowd of festivalgoers, most of whom had either read the book or seen the film, or both. Why does this apparently simple story of a boy and a bird continue to speak to us nearly 60 years after it was written? And what does that say about the changes in British society in the same period – or lack of them?