Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: KILL YOUR DARLINGS by Terence Blacker

Kill Your Darlings  by Terence Blacker, first American hardcover edition published by St. Martin's Press, New York, 2001.  It was published the previous year in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

I was reminded of this forgotten comic gem by Declan Burke's recent blog, at this link, discussing the flak over the tentative title of his next book, Kill Your Babies, which was suggested to him by Raymond Chandler's musing over comments originally made by William Faulkner.  Faulkner said that, as a writer, you must sometimes "kill your darlings," your favorite bits of prose, when editing your own work.

A number of other writers have subsequently picked that up as a title, including Max Allan Collins in his 1984 bibliomystery about a lost Hammett novel.  The title in Terence Blacker's noir thriller carries a double meaning and jells well with the irony within.  He doesn't use it as an epigraph, but he uses it well in the concluding chapter.

His novel has no epigraph, in fact, but there are numerous quotes throughout the text which might serve, including these from page 16:
"The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art." --Bernard Shaw.
"Marriage is about roughage, bills, garbage disposal, and noise.  There is something vulgar, almost absurd, in the notion of a Mrs. Plato or a Mme Descartes, or of Wittgenstein on a honeymoon.  Perhaps Louis Althusser was enacting a necessary axiom or lyrical proof, when on the morning of November 16, 1980, he throttled his wife." --George Steiner
"I believe that all those painters and writers who leave their wives have an idea at the back of their minds that their painting or writing will be the better for it, whereas they only go from bad to worse." --Patrick White
These quotes serve as foreshadowing, forearming the reader for the comic noir that lies ahead.  And Blacker's humor gets blacker as he goes along.  In places the novel made me think of the dark parts of John Cheever's Falconer.  That dark.  But unlike Cheever's novel, there is comedy here as well.

The protagonist is a fine writer whose talents are unappreciated while the inferior work of others gets rewarded every day.  He devises a scheme to achieve recognition, but as with any Faustian pact in which the ends justify the ethical hedging of means, things wryly go awry.

And the writing is superb, loaded with insights and humorous asides and gossip about authors.  In my opinion, this forgotten novel ranks up there with James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale: A Novel and Francine Prose's Blue Angel: A Novel and so many others that now spring to mind.  Academic noir ought to be recognized as a separate genre.  Down these dark halls of academia a writer must go who is himself not mean.

Terence Blacker has his own wikipedia page, at this link, and it lists this novel but doesn't say anything about it.  I have not yet read any of his other books, but it's about time I did.
Forgotten Book Friday is a national holiday, or should be, observed by the collected authors and bloggers on their own blogs, organized by author Patti Abbot, at this link, and many other little known gems are to be found by backtracking the friday links.


  1. Loved BLUE ANGEL by Prose. She's a fine writer. And loved next by Hynes. Have to take a look at this and Hynes' earlier novel. Thanks!

  2. I believe I was the first author to use KILL YOUR DARLINGS as a title. While there is no way to stop other writers from re-using one of your titles -- I've used existing titles myself a few times, though usually at an editor's insistence (CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL for instance) -- I thought KILL YOUR DARLINGS was distinctive enough, well-known enough in a modest way, to be safe. I was wrong.

  3. I think that you were indeed the first, Max, and thanks for posting that.

    Blacker's protagonist is of course a plagiarist. Unable to get his work recognized, he appropriates the work of others freely to a general public (and to editors focused on corporate ends regardless of means) who apparently aren't well read enough anyway to recognize the original sources (though of course, avid readers cannot be fooled for a moment). The effect is bizarre and comic as he tosses the works of well-known authors about.

    "Top Ten Literary Slogans
    1. Get black on what - Guy de Maupassant
    2. Soak and wait - Arthur Koestler
    3. Write for yourself - J. D. Salinger
    4. Only connect - E. M. Forster
    5. Bear serenely with imitators - Rudyard Kiping
    6. Kill your darlings - William Faulkner
    7. Ideas are actions - Gustave Flaubert
    8. Hide your God - Paul Valery
    9. Style is character - Joan Didion
    10. Do not hurry, do not rest - Johann von Goethe"