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Against the Odds


‘Fanfares, ticker-tape parades and pompom-wielding cheerleaders failed to greet the news that the UK economy grew by 0.1 per cent in the quarter-year to December,’ John Lanchester wrote in the last issue of the LRB. But in some parts of the publishing industry, premature celebration seems to be underway. Have the heady days of inexplicably bloated advances already returned? Sceptre recently paid more than £100,000 for a first novel, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles:

Set in New York in 1938, the novel traces ‘a watershed year’ for narrator Katey Kontent, a young woman of ‘formidable intellect, bracing wit, and uncommonly good legs’.

The editor at Sceptre who bought it, Jocasta Hamilton, says she made the extravagant offer ‘over a very appropriate midday Martini’. Very appropriate. It’s hard not to think there’s some wishful thinking at work in the enthusiasm for a book about someone who ‘makes it against the odds’ as the Great Depression is coming to an end.

According to the Bookseller, Hamilton says Towles’s style is like a mixture of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Truman Capote. Lily Bart, Jay Gatsby, Holly Golightly – probably not the first three names that spring to mind when you try to think of characters who ‘make it against the odds’. But perhaps that’s the point: Towles can’t, surely, have written a genuinely upbeat book set in the year of the Munich Agreement. All will be revealed when the novel comes out next spring, assuming its publication isn’t thwarted by the British economy collapsing completely in the meantime.

Comments on “Against the Odds”

  1. jcclakeru says:

    Katey Kontent? Really?

  2. Phil says:

    Amor Towles? Really?

    (There should be a name for the experience of seeing a first name you’ve never seen before used together with a surname you’ve neve seen before. The Katey Kontent effect, perhaps.)

  3. hexam says:

    The real hero of this story is, of course, the agent who has managed to sell US and UK/Commonwealth rights separately and should bask in the achievement for as long as her cut of the deal allows. If the rights had first gone to a US publisher then there’s a good chance Sceptre could have bought Amor Towles’s debut for half the price and a decent chance that both publishers would have made their money back or, at the very least, seen more of it come back to them.
    Sceptre’s silly advance is good for a headline in the Bookseller, and will probably get the novel on to a 3 for 2 table at Waterstone’s (at deep discount) on the back of it, but it’s bad for Sceptre’s midlist authors, and any writer who thought they were signing to a publisher rather than a bookie.
    If Amor Towles has more books in him — and wants his publisher to care about any of them — it’s bad for him, too, but perhaps wondering about the future is the very silliest thing to do right now?

  4. Camus123 says:

    It’s an anagram of course. His real name is Mat F. Roslow, with whom I am sure you are all familiar, he wrote a column in Private Eye in which he published silly names from readers.

  5. Rogue says:

    Real name. And, by all accounts, the real deal.

    I much prefer irony to cynicism.

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