I got the news, appropriately enough, under an Irish heaven. First from Anthony, in the comments section for my review. Then a few days later, from the publisher. By which I mean the actual publisher, one Humfrey Hunter, not some PR flak.
Humfrey Hunter? I’ve long suspected I’m a supporting character in a Wodehouse novel, and now I’m certain of it. (Maybe something by Waugh, or Nabokov, but God, I hope not.)
Hi Fred [editor’s note: he didn’t call me Fred, but you know…]
I’m the publisher of Silvertail Books and I’m getting in touch because we will shortly be bringing out UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN by Donald E. Westlake. His son Paul suggested I get in touch with you in the hope this might be of interest to you? I know you’ve written about UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN before, but I wondered if this new edition might be something worth you mentioning? The book doesn’t seem to have got the attention it deserved when it first came out, and I would love to correct that now. There is some more information here:
Silvertail is best-known for being the only UK publisher willing to put out books critical of the Church of Scientology. In recent years, among others, we have published Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR, and Leah Remini’s TROUBLEMAKER. Having Donald E. Westlake on our list is a huge moment for us, as I’m sure you can understand.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
It’s not one of the great houses (which by Westlake’s account were not always so great to work with), but sounds like they have some good writers. We’re going to see more and more of this, as small publishers, mainly hawking their wares online (though as mentioned, there is a paperback edition from Silvertail as well), look to boost their profile by publishing long out of print works by well known writers.
There’s been a lot of that going on with Westlake of late, with the digital publisher Open Road, in unholy alliance with The Mysterious Press (which lives on in ghostly form) putting out one long-neglected opus after another. But much as I appreciate this, the cover art has been, shall we say, sketchy.
What you see above is by no means the best imaginable specimen of the illustrator’s craft, but I find it thoughtful and well-conceived, all the same. The planes for England, the eel for Anguilla. (Some dolphins would have been nice, but what the hell). And we don’t have to gaze at the bared lilywhite bums of confused British soldiers, as in the original (and up to now only) edition of this book.
Not a masterpiece this cover, but much better than you’d expect for a reprint of such an obscure and little-known book, about an obscure and little-known island, which was indeed largely ignored when first published (and probably contributed to the end of Westlake’s professional relationship with Simon & Schuster).
Fact is, the only place you’re ever likely to find the original edition in a shop is on Anguilla itself, and their supply must be running low by now (if there are any shops left there, after Maria had her winsome way with them).
So why now? Well, first of all, I’d assume they got the rights pretty cheap, and with the ongoing Westlake renaissance, they get some new readers for their other books. Unlike the original, this edition comes out under an English publisher, and this is a fascinating and forgotten chapter of England’s imperialist history, though no Anguillan has ever forgotten it.
They could probably break even on this edition just from sales to Anguilla and its far flung diaspora, as well as tourists to that blessed yet beknighted isle, who want to read up on its history. For all of them, this book is pretty much the only game in town, or at least the only one with decent prose. Eventually the original hardcovers will be read to death, and now there’s finally a new edition, that you can buy in a shop, or just download to your device while lounging on a beach, or dolphin-watching from a pier.
And finally, I would surmise, a publisher this small and spirited (taking on the deep-pocketed Scientologists with their vast army of legal lions takes guts) certainly must empathize with other slippery eels in a sea full of bigger fish, biting above their weight level (eels don’t punch). Whatever the reason, I applaud the revival of any Westlake. And the fact that so little of his work is out of print now attests to the growth of his reputation.
Westlake hated colonialism, celebrated the independent spirit of small nations, but still had an interest in how past exploiters could become present-day protectors (he revisisted this idea in High Adventure, also recently reprinted).
The irony of this story is how Anguilla, living in the shadow of its hated enemy St. Kitts, could only retain its cherished independence by remaining a colony (in name only) of the British Empire (ditto). It’s the kind of sly sardonic literary journalism the late V.S. Naipaul was best known for, and with the rebirth of interest in him following his death earlier this month, the timing of this relaunch seems fortunate (not that the critics are likely to pay any more attention this time than last, but fuck them).
So anyway, I let Humfrey know that I’d comply with his request, once I was back under a New York Hell, and boy am I ever. Have to get back to the air conditioning now. See you next month, fellow eels. Stay slippery.
PS: Note to Humfrey. Nobody’s reprinted Adios, Scheherazade in a good long while, and it’s one of his best books, albeit controversial on matters sexual, and this is the #MeToo era–but if you’re not scared of Scientology…..)