‘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.