Boyd Tonkin: Dust off these books and find imperishable gold

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The Independent Culture

To find that a shift in the rules of submission excluded a whole year of fiction from Booker eligibility is like the discovery, in some tale of the uncanny, of a secret room in a Gothic mansion. As the heavy door swings open with an ominous creak, what can lie inside? Hidden treasures, ghastly remains – or just a pile of dusty, dated bric-a-brac? In the event, the long-list of 22 titles from 1970 devised by Peter Straus and the Man Booker team contains much more imperishable gold than quaint period dross. The wisdom of hindsight does play a part in the range and robustness of this list. It stretches from high-carat modern classics (Patrick White's The Vivisector, Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies, J G Farrell's Troubles), through youthful works by now celebrated names, to a formidable hand of top-flight historical novels. In scope and style it runs all the way from a late work by a literary child of the Thirties, HE Bates (creator of much else besides Pop Larkin and his tribe), to rebel playwright Joe Orton's foray into fiction.

Almost 40 years later, several authors are still vigorous and visible on the literary and wider cultural stage: Melvyn Bragg, of course, but also David Lodge, Elaine Feinstein (who had a review in The Independent last Friday), Francis King, Reg Hill, Susan Hill, Nina Bawden and Ruth Rendell.