Michael Harrison's First Novel (1936)
1934. London: Arthur Barker Ltd. 412 pages, hardcover with dust jacket.
MH met a successful author at a party, read one of his books later that night when unable to sleep, and concluded that he himself could write a better one. He later came to regard his first book as embarrassing, "bad Oscar Wilde.... All its pretentiousness" not excluding the impossible names" was a fault of near-childhood... and I’ve grown up since (I trust!)." Published when he was 27, it is dated and youthful, but still a good novel.
Nigel Caryngton is an intriguing mix of MH as he was, as he was afraid he was, and as he hoped to be. Nigel is an aspiring but lazy novelist, who is more fascinating as a talker than he could ever be as a writer. He matures through his successive affairs with three women, each of whom leaves him once she’s helped him run through his money. When asked if the novel he is supposed to be writing is autobiographical, Nigel replies, "As much as any young author’s work must be. His experience isn’t wide enough for it to be anything else." There are many details of MH’s early life here, and his own life-long attitudes"—particularly his belief that "God has a mind like a cash-register," and that whatever dirty tricks are played on us are only repayment for those we have played on others. Nigel has "faith" that his destiny will provide for him, if only he leaves it up to destiny and doesn’t lose his faith. More than fifty years later, MH himself still felt this way.
The manuscript title page, with a young man’s proud calligraphic flourish, is in my collection, along with the holograph poem, "Fair-Weather Love," written originally for MH’s friend, pianist and composer Hugh Wade.
This book won the Italian Occidente Prize for best non-Italian novel of the year, and sold very well—which MH later regarded as unfortunate.
Nigel and some other characters also appear in Spring in Tartarus (1935) and in the title story of the anthology Transit of Venus (1936).
-- Tina Rhea