A WEEK IN BOOKS

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The Independent Culture
In mid-Sixties Ireland the Ministry of Education, alarmed by news that fewer and fewer people were bothering to practise the smattering of Gaelic that they had grudgingly learned at school, invited the nation to think of ways in which the Irish might be persuaded to take an interest in their own language. Among the flood of worthy suggestions that followed was an idea of pure genius: that all the books banned by the Catholic Church over the years or included in the legendary "Index'' of Papal disapproval, should be translated into Gaelic, thus assuring an enthusiastic, instant readership.

This week a different kind of Index has been attracting disgraced titles, but this time the cause is less hopeless. Index on Censorship, the international watchdog that monitors and condemns all threats to free expression around the world, are organising an Auction of Banned Books in November at the Middle Temple Hall in London, where a Christie's auctioneer will bring down the hammer on all manner of once-vilified volumes, from Radclyffe Hall's Sapphic classic The Well of Loneliness (seized by the Home Office in 1938) to David Britton's macabre Lord Horror, the first novel since Hubert Selby Jnr's Last Exit to Brooklyn to be banned in Britain under the Obscene Publications Act.

So far, the piece de resistance is a 1928 copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, signed by the author, bought in Florence and smuggled through British customs, although a samizdat Polish Animal Farm will also have its enthusiasts, as will a 1968 Russian edition of Cancer Ward, a copy of the once-ubiquitous Little Red Schoolbook, Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle and Boris... hang on a minute. Ken Follett? Ken married-to-Barbie, New-Labour-cheerleader Follett was once banned as a subversive writer? In the catalogue, it says the book inscribed with the words "banned in south Africa because of page 211'' which is merely tantalising. It also shows that it's many more than the obvious radical works that fall victim to censorship and bowlderisation. After all, Alice in Wonderland once fell foul of the cultural commissars of China.

The Index people are now busily raiding their shelves for suitable titles and material to put in the auction. Can you help? If you have any rare editions of banned works (ie books published or in print while their existence was outlawed) or letters or manuscripts, texts, scripts, cartoons, drawings or other obiter scripta of banned writers, Index on Censorship would love to hear from you (Tel: 0171-278 2313). Now I must go and dig out my copy of the Marquis de Sade (the two-archbishops-standing-by edition...)

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