Futility by William Gerhardie

I’ve been hearing great things about Futility by William Gerhardie, freshly resurrected from publishing oblivion by Melville House. We’ll be having an review in an upcoming TQC; until then, Michael Dirda in The Washington Post.

William Gerhardie’s “Futility” must stand with Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” and Hubert Crackan­thorpe’s “Wreckage” high among English fiction’s best single-word book titles. Written while its author was still an undergraduate at Oxford and first published in 1922, “Futility” is precisely what the subtitle announces: “A Novel on Russian Themes.” Its overall tone is distinctly Chekhovian, a mixture of comedy and pathos, suffused with low-key irony. When the American edition appeared, it bore a preface by no less an eminence than Edith Wharton, praising “the laughter, the tears, the strong beat of life in it.”

That description sounds off-puttingly Edwardian and old-fashioned, yet Gerhardie’s novel and its successors — especially “The Polyglots” and “Jazz and Jasper” (called “Eva’s Apples” in the United States before gaining its definitive title, “Doom”) — won a chorus of praise from Arnold Bennett, H.G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield, Evelyn Waugh (“I have talent, but he has genius”), Graham Greene and many others. . . .

Gerhardie fans will be pleased to know that Melville House has The Polyglots planned for January 2013.

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I literally just bought a copy today. I’m really looking forward to this one.

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