Thank you to Faber and Faber and to the wonderful Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street for hosting such a memorable launch for The Fountain in the Forest on 11 January, and to the 200-plus friends and colleagues who came along. Thank you also to my editor at Faber, Lee Brackstone, who rose to the challenge by writing and delivering an Oulipo-inspired speech* that was both touching and very funny. Many books were sold — and many signed! Thank you again. To be able to celebrate the publication of a book in such great company really is the cherry on the cake.
Just before the launch I was at BBC Broadcasting House pre-recording an interview for BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking, a programme about Protest and Counterculture – from the Columbia University occcupations of 1968 to the Battle of the Beanfield, and 1990s rave culture. The programme went out later that same night, and you can ‘listen again’ here. (During what was – thanks to host Matthew Sweet and my fellow guests – a fascinating conversation to have been part of, I did also manage to mention the important campaigning being done by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, and by the charity INQUEST.)
The Fountain in the Forest also had its first print review, in the TLS (No. 5989, 12 January 2018) which was published that same morning. This is subscriber-only content at the moment, but here’s an extract:
Much experimental writing may strike sceptical readers as “clever-clever”, a phrase that Gilbert Adair once observed tends to mean “half-clever” rather than “double”. The skills involved in the production of, say, Oulipian texts may dazzle in their virtuosity, but the result may seem to lack the pulse of life.
Tony White’s fifth novel, a gripping police procedural set in and around the London Borough of Holborn, while impeccably Oulipian in conception and execution, has that pulse. The hero is Detective Sergeant Rex King, smart, single, with a taste for Fred Perry shirts and Harrington jackets. When a horribly mutilated body is discovered in the Georgian scenery-painting studio of a Covent Garden theatre we follow his investigation into a crime that appears to implicate an old friend. […] None of this may seem to be in any way experimental. But certain words in each chapter appear in bold print as part of a “mandated vocabulary”, a pre-determined lexicon derived from – well, that would give the game away, and I don’t want to spoil the fun. […] This may all seem highly contrived (which of course it is) but there’s no stink of the lamp, and the complex, non-linear plot barrels along confidently, enriched rather than impeded by the technique. I occasionally found myself checking the appendices to find out in advance what words would appear, admiring all the more the ingenuity involved in their seamless inclusion. […] The Fountain in the Forest sets the author and his readers a bracingly high bar.
(I was also delighted to see that this same issue of the TLS carries a review of Benjamin Koerber’s English translation for the University of Texas Press of Using Life, a novel by persecuted Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji. I interviewed Naji last spring for the English PEN as part of their Festival of Modern Literature, and you can read that interview here.)
*Thanks to Lee Brackstone for his generosity in allowing me to post this print-out of notes for his speech, which he signed on the night:
‘Under the Paving Stones’ — Faber Social and Tony White present a night of experimental fiction with Iphgenia Baal, Kirsty Gunn, Stewart Home, Joanna Walsh, Tony White and Eley Williams – 19 February 7:00 pm