The Fountain in the Forest: first reviews

It is a great thrill that The Fountain in the Forest has had some substantial print reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, the Financial Times and Spectator, as well online in Crime Time’s January round-up, and from the author and critic Nina Allan. Here are some quotes and links:

“a gripping police procedural […] impeccably Oulipian in conception and execution […] The Fountain in the Forest sets the author and his readers a bracingly high bar.” David Collard, TLS

“an engaging plot allows plenty of room for radical yet accessible interventions. The Fountain in the Forest can be read on several levels: as a crime novel, a Bildungsroman, a tale of protest and institutional violence, as well as a text written with the use of a mandated vocabulary. […] That all these stylistic fireworks can illuminate several rich plot lines, each with multiple twists, which an attentive reader will enjoy disentangling, is the best vindication of experimental prose. […] Let’s hope for more surprises in the next instalment.” Anna Aslanyan, Financial Times

Tony White’s latest novel begins for all the world like a police procedural, following the delightfully named sleuth Rex King as he investigates the grisly murder of man in a Covent Garden theatre. […] The Fountain in the Forest is a slow-burner. White lulls the reader into absorbed bewilderment before weaving the strands together with all the deftness of a seasoned crime writer. […] pays timely homage, in a far subtler way than certain self-styled Brexit novels, to the strength of British ties with the continent. […] The Fountain in the Forest is told with an obituarist’s unsentimental deference. Enjoy it as a noir entertainment or as an evocative picture postcard from the past.” Houman Barekat, Spectator

“A truly intriguing venture into the crime genre by the talented White […] But there is more to the novel than the actual plot, as White unveils a series of literary challenges which throw the whole story a softball curve, while never slowing the plot down. Engaging and at the same time a challenge, this is both a good read and a cheeky divertimento, and all rather unique.” Maxim Jakubowski, Crime Time

Tony White speaking at The Fountain in the Forest launch, Daunt Books, 11 January 2018. Photo: © Kit Caless, 2018

The Fountain in the Forest can be read with all the pleasure you might expect from a knotty police procedural, a knowledgeably detailed, intriguing and compelling police procedural at that. The story drives ever forward, even when it takes you backwards in time to take a look at the roots of the crime in question. Even when it flip-flops between two distinct time-streams and character identities within the space of a single sentence, the sense throughout is of a steady and satisfying accretion of significant information, i.e clues – exactly what you’d hope for from any good thriller. […] You could read the novel with no knowledge of OULIPO and enjoy it just as well. […] Anyone who enjoyed Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child or Nicholas Royle’s First Novel will love this book. Anyone who is into Ian Rankin or Denise Mina will love it, too. […] Above all, there is the joy inherent in a book well made: language expertly deployed, place wonderfully evoked, ideas, characters, memories, theories, political subtext brought vibrantly to life, a good story well told. The Fountain in the Forest would be a worthy contender for the CWA Gold Dagger. It is equally the kind of book that might win the Goldsmiths Prize. Read, and enjoy.” Nina Allan

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘Under the Paving Stones’ — Faber Social and Tony White present a night of experimental fiction with Iphgenia Baal, Kirsty Gunn, Richard Milward, Joanna Walsh, Tony White and Eley Williams – 19 February 7:00 pm

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Crossword competition

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘Intelligence Squared’, David Collard reviews The Fountain in the Forest for the TLS

‘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

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Book, launched

Photo: © Kit Caless, 2018

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:

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘Intelligence Squared’, David Collard reviews The Fountain in the Forest for the TLS

‘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

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Early reader reviews

One of the great things about social media is that readers are able to post book reviews within hours or days of publication. Here are a just a few of the reader reviews of The Fountain in the Forest that have appeared on Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram.

‘You’re going to want to read this book and you deserve to enjoy the mix of bewilderment and shock I just experienced, because in a world where everything is telegraphed having the applecart upended, smashed to pieces and then sold as firewood is something to cherish […] plays with the genre with a twist so brazen that, on its own, is a commentary on the police procedural […] a gripping stunning read. As thrilling, page-turning and suspenseful as any potboiler anyone will read this year, brilliantly set up […] The Fountain in the Forest has set a high bar for the rest of the novels I read this year.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ @Mondyboy

‘A book to sit back and enjoy.  The cover is so beautiful that I strongly recommend getting hold of a paper copy, rather than an e-book.  […] This is a book to savour and think about.  […] Great for Book Clubs or studying.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ @emmabbooks

‘An extremely clever narrative and a very quirky storytelling style. Loved this one for all it’s differences to my normal reads.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ @Lizzy11268

‘one of the most original and unique novels I’ve read for a while, offering a fascinating and intricate crime story that genuinely keeps you guessing until the end.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ @bookshelfwonders

Thank you all for this amazing feedback!

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘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

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Published today: The Fountain in the Forest

My new novel The Fountain in the Forest is published today – 4 January 2018. Here’s the blurb:

When a brutally murdered man is found hanging in a Covent Garden theatre, Detective Sergeant Rex King becomes obsessed with the case. Who is this anonymous corpse, and why has he been ritually mutilated? But as Rex explores the crime scene further, the mystery deepens, and he finds himself confronting his own secret history instead. Who, more importantly, is Rex King?

Shifting between Holborn Police Station, an abandoned village in rural 1980s France, and the Battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge, The Fountain in the Forest transforms the traditional crime narrative into something dizzyingly unique. At once an avant-garde linguistic experiment, thrilling police procedural, philosophical meditation on liberty, and counter-culture bildungsroman, this is an iconoclastic novel of unparalleled ambition.

Here is Luke Bird’s phenomenal cover – hopefully you will see this around a fair bit in the coming weeks and months…

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘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

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More Experimental Thrillers

I was delighted that my ‘Top 10 Experimental Thrillers’ piece for Guardian Books during the holidays (27/12/2017) prompted much online discussion, both about the titles I discuss – by Robbe-Grillet, Duras, Burroughs, Headley, Perec, et al – and of course about the many other possible contenders for inclusion. I promised (rather rashly) to pull these suggestions together for ease of reference.

Firstly, here is my reserve list. The ten novels (and Michael Moorcock’s short story collection) that I considered, but that didn’t make it into my final Top 10 for Guardian Books:

  • Michael Moorcock, The Metatemporal Detective

  • Tom McCarthy, Men in Space

  • Roberto Bolano, 2666

  • Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller…

  • Gertrude Stein, Blood on the Dining Room Floor

  • Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

  • Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

  • Antonio Tabucchi, Pereira Maintains

  • Samuel Beckett, Mallone Dies

  • M John Harrison, Nova Swing

And here (with no additional commentary from me) are the suggestions made by friends – mainly on Facebook – and in reader comments submitted on Guardian Books in response to my article. N.B. i) where readers suggested an author or a body of work, I have selected one illustrative title. N.B. ii) suggestions of novels that were merely ‘experimental’, or the various suggestions for alternative introductions to the oeuvre of William S. Burroughs – rather than experimental thrillers per se – have not been included here:

  • Ivan Vladislavić, 101 Detectives

  • Trevor Hoyle, Blind Needle

  • Sebastian Japrisot, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

  • Georges Simenon, The Man Who Watched Trains Go By

  • Boileu-Narcejac, The Living and the Dead

  • Friedrich Durrenmatt, Suspicion

  • Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

  • Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

  • Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

  • John Franklin Bardin, The Deadly Percheron

  • Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory

  • Richard Brautigan, Dreaming of Babylon

  • Kobo Abe, The Ruined Map

  • Norman Spinrad, Bug Jack Barron

  • Andrea Marie Schenkel, The Dark Meadow

  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

  • China Mieville, The City and the City

  • Jean Patrick Manchette, The Prone Gunman

  • Leonardo Sciascia, The Day of the Owl

  • Carlo Emilio Gadda, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana

  • Cameron McCabe, The Face on the Cutting Room Floor

  • Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man

  • Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemens’ Union

  • Agatha Christie, The ABC Murders

  • Michel Butor, L’emploi du temps / Passing Time

With thanks to Chris Power, Aaron Williamson, Jason Bowman, Nicholas Royle, abkquan, Laurence Bury, stvkiley, renaultfloride, kushti, keithyd, Matthew Cobb, praxismakesperfec, andrew staines, referendum, Martin Silenus, proust.

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Tony White, ‘Top 10 Experimental Thrillers’, Guardian Books

‘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.

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