Buried Treasure

Carol Birch on Nathanael West's 'Miss Lonelyhearts'
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The Independent Culture

Expressing a yearning void at the centre of modern life as savagely and heartbreakingly sad as anything I've read, Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West is a strange and tiny gem of pared-down prose. Miss Lonelyhearts is the male hack who, lightly taking on a newspaper agony column in 1930s New York, is overwhelmed by the daily fare of suffering with which he is confronted. Deciding that love is the only answer, he becomes fixated on Christ, "the Miss Lonelyhearts of Miss Lonelyhearts". Caught between Shrike, the cynical features editor, and a girlfriend who thinks soup and a weekend break is the answer to everything, Miss Lonelyhearts writes platitudes while "killing his great understanding heart by laughing" and fragmenting along with the city around him. Pacy, hard-edged, and slightly surreal, Miss Lonelyhearts (Penguin Modern Classics) is a great book because of its compassion. It should be read.

Carol Birch's novel 'Turn Again Home' is published by Virago