Sunday, 4 December 2011


This is a blog about something I think of as "cult fiction". Googling that phrase brings up the titles of all sorts of books that some people believe fit that category, from The Catcher in the Rye to Jonathan Livingston Seagull - neither of which would make my list. To me, a cult book is one that has a rather small number of readers (or, at any rate, less than it deserves), who are perhaps more than usually fervent about it. It may be eccentric, irreverent, experimental; it should be a work of real quality, but for one reason or another, its quality isn't obvious to most people. It's in the nature of cults that they are secret. When the secret gets out, the book can't really be a cult any more.

Another way of putting it is that this is a blog about books I love that hardly anyone else seems to know about. I love most kinds of fiction, and have done since I was a boy, taking out my maximum quota of library books every couple of weeks, saving up my 3/6 (three shillings and sixpence) to buy the next book in the Narnia series, or (a bit older) going to school with a Penguin Modern Classic stuffed into my blazer pocket. As a child, I read a lot of historical novels and fantasy; later I discovered science fiction; I've always read a lot of that vague genre now called by the unfortunate name of literary fiction. Within that last category I have a particular leaning towards postmodernism, metafiction, experimental writing of a playful kind. Borges, Nabokov, Grass and Garcia Marquez are heroes of mine, who won't be included here because in all their cases the secret is well and truly out, but who have the daring and imagination I prize in fiction.

My plan is to create a series of entries on books that I think should be cults, even if in some cases the only member seems to be me. One of the best things about the Internet is the support it gives to people of minority interests, allowing you to find out more and to make contact with others who share the same tastes. Some of the books I'll be covering are ones I've found out about through various Internet sources (such as The Guardian's book pages), while others are ones I've rediscovered through a sudden urge to Google a writer I first read many years ago.

The White Threshold is the title of a 1949 collection of poems by the great Scottish poet W.S. Graham, and also of a poem in that collection. I have a strong interest in Graham, having edited his New Collected Poems and written a book about him. Here I'm borrowing his title for a project that has apparently nothing to do with him, or with poetry. In Graham's poem, the white threshold is the foaming sea, through which sailors pass when they drown. Look a little closer, though, and you find that it also represents the threshold of text, through which readers pass when they open the white pages of a book. I'm not sure how keen a reader of fiction Graham was, though he was certainly an admirer of Samuel Beckett, another novelist I won't be considering here. But no one has written better than he did about the pleasures and travails of reading and writing, so he makes a fine figurehead for this blog.

In a few days' time, I hope to post my first title, an epic historical novel which is almost forgotten now (and was not hugely famous even when it came out), but which seems to me one of the finest achievements of British fiction in the late twentieth century.


  1. Great to see you online Matthew. Look forward to reading these.

  2. Thanks, Mark. New suggestions for postings always welcome.