The Last Second: A Novella


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In the middle of our polling it seemed as if Penelope Fitzgerald would be the outright winner, with multiple votes for The Coming of Spring and The Blue Flower. Fitzgerald, who died in , is an English classic, a brilliantly oblique ironist, whose prose wears its themes lightly.


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If this Observer poll has any consequence it derives from the fact that we have consulted mainly with professionals. These included several writers who, neglected this time, might reasonably expect to attract the attention of critics and readers a generation hence. And so to our winner. JM Coetzee's Disgrace received nominations from writers across the English-speaking world. This unforgettable novel of the South African crisis has already brought its author a record-breaking second Booker Prize in Just as, in the US, Toni Morrison's Beloved isolates and finally redeems a primal trauma associated with slavery, so Disgrace addresses the complexity of black and white relations in the dying days of apartheid.

As readers, we want our 'great novels' to include as much as possible of experience and to address the great issues of our time. The ominous drumbeat of race continues to reverberate through English and American culture, in different ways. Where Morrison, in true American style, set out to redefine and enlarge the scope of classic American literature, Coetzee, more modestly, took a South African campus story and found in that tortured microcosm a bleak tale that haunts as much as any grander narrative.

A liberal college professor's brief and thoughtless affair with one of his students detonates a campus scandal. Humiliated but defiant, the professor, Lurie, refuses to apologise but resigns to live with his daughter on a remote farm. Here, he finds in reconciliation a new harmony until he realises that blacks and whites are at daggers drawn. Then, in a shocking climax, his daughter is attacked and raped.

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Narrated with icy precision and fastidious understatement, it is a masterpiece of simplicity. John Coetzee himself is an appealing figure: discreet, professorial, and soft-spoken. Wisely shunning the literary circus, he is our Invisible Man. He lives quietly; he rides his bike; he writes. Slowly, the work accumulates. He is a writer's writer, but he's a reader's writer, too.

Which is how we return him to Observer readers, a great contemporary whose work we are lucky enough to find in our own time.

Coetzee became the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a second time with this exploration of post- apartheid South Africa, which centres on Professor David Lurie, in self-imposed exile at his daughter's remote farm after an ill-advised affair with a student. Super-charged, anarchic and full of narrative acrobatics, Money burst on to the Eighties literary scene leaving a trail of imitators and devotees in its wake, not least because of its formidable, if frequently repulsive narrator, ad director John Self.

Homosexual writer Keith Toomey is asked to write the memoirs of the late Pope Gregory XVII - a commission that takes him on a whirlwind recap of the major events of the 20th century. Opening in , Atonement focuses on Briony Tallis , at first as a year-old implicated in the conviction of a family friend for rape and, latterly, an elderly novelist on the brink of losing her memory. Fitzgerald's final novel is frequently cited as her masterpiece.

It recreates the life of the 18th-century German poet and philosopher Novalis , focusing on his romance with a year-old girl. Ishiguro's intricate, dream-like fourth novel marked a radical departure from the more conventional narratives of his earlier work, evoking the great European masters of film as much as fiction.

Rushdie's second novel not only won the Booker prize but was also awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' in It unites powerful subject matter - the partition of India - with a dazzling, playful style. Stevens , a butler at Darlington Hall, takes a trip to the West Country. His memories - particularly of the late Lord Darlington , revealed as a Nazi sympathiser - throw into sharp relief the novel's themes of collusion, betrayal and repression. A powerful meditation on 20th-century Irish history, particularly focusing on the Troubles, this novel was a runner-up for the Booker prize of , and a national bestseller, confirming its author's reputation as Ireland's leading novelist.

A study of a rural community in Ireland, the changing seasons and the gradual creep of modernity. A genre-bending fiction that incorporates memoir, history, folklore and a therapeutic reprise of the author's own career. Did they get it wrong? Tell us your nominations here.


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First place Disgrace JM Coetzee Coetzee became the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a second time with this exploration of post- apartheid South Africa, which centres on Professor David Lurie, in self-imposed exile at his daughter's remote farm after an ill-advised affair with a student. Second place Money Martin Amis Super-charged, anarchic and full of narrative acrobatics, Money burst on to the Eighties literary scene leaving a trail of imitators and devotees in its wake, not least because of its formidable, if frequently repulsive narrator, ad director John Self.

Joint third place Earthly Powers Anthony Burgess Homosexual writer Keith Toomey is asked to write the memoirs of the late Pope Gregory XVII - a commission that takes him on a whirlwind recap of the major events of the 20th century. Atonement Ian McEwan Opening in , Atonement focuses on Briony Tallis , at first as a year-old implicated in the conviction of a family friend for rape and, latterly, an elderly novelist on the brink of losing her memory.

The Blue Flower Penelope Fitzgerald Fitzgerald's final novel is frequently cited as her masterpiece. The Unconsoled Kazuo Ishiguro Ishiguro's intricate, dream-like fourth novel marked a radical departure from the more conventional narratives of his earlier work, evoking the great European masters of film as much as fiction. Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie Rushdie's second novel not only won the Booker prize but was also awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' in Amongst Women John McGahern A powerful meditation on 20th-century Irish history, particularly focusing on the Troubles, this novel was a runner-up for the Booker prize of , and a national bestseller, confirming its author's reputation as Ireland's leading novelist.

Topics Fiction The Observer. New York Times reviews. Reuse this content. Most popular. My first child was on the way and what did I know about publishing? Gatehouse had this all in place, and so I suggested to Tom that we set up a journal as a way of discovering and supporting new voices. In I approached a range of writers in Norwich and we built a core team of editors and built Lighthouse Literary Journal.

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The journal had a hit as early as its second issue, when we published the short story 3 by Anna Metcalfe. We had momentum. It was from this team that the core directors of Gatehouse mark II were recruited with poets Meirion Jordan and Julia Webb, novelist Ian Nettleton and journalist Claire Hynes, and shortly after we were joined by the indispensible Sam Ruddock, who brought expertise in live literature, management, and accounting.

What we all agreed on was that the spirit of the press needed to be maintained and built upon. A beautiful tarot collaboration between artist Tom de Freston and Helen Ivory, all printed as cards and boxed with foil printed lids, and the wonderfully weird Shed, a pamphlet collaboration between Martin Figura and our in-house artist, Natty Peterkin. I realised quite quickly that, as a press, handling novels was beyond our capacity. What I saw instead was the opportunity to offer a step up, to find real, meaningful opportunities for the authors who were working with us.

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To see a writer succeed is one of the greatest joys of running this press. We are all either writers or literature professionals ourselves, and we know how hard it is to break through, in however small a way.

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This is why we all volunteer our time: we feel part of a community that extends from directors to writers and readers, where the cynicism of commercial publishing is mellowed by the fact that we are connected to one another. One of our subsequent winners of the New Fictions Prize, Amanthi Harris, is now in negotiation with a press we see as a serious publisher of new writing after we approached them with her manuscript.

If we can help, even a little, by providing space for new voices to be heard, then we have made all that effort worthwhile. Menu Cart. Continue Shopping Your Cart is Empty. Authors Books About Blog Cart. July 31, Share:.

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