25 October 2016

In preparation for the publication of his first novel, Metroland, in 1980, Julian Barnes wrote a scathing self review. He needn't have worried: here's the letter he received from Dodie Smith congratulating him on his book. This, along with other letters, reviews and reader's reports commissioned by Jonathan Cape ahead of first publication, can all be found in the new archive edition of Metroland.

Barnes is now one of the most celebrated writers of his generation and won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending in 2011.

Metroland

Dear Julian,

Laurien will have told you I was going to wait until you had got through the excitements of the pre-publication of “Metroland” before writing to you about it. Judging by the wonderful reception it is getting you will now be busier than ever but I feel I can’t wait any longer before telling you how much I admire it.

I am amazed at the economy of your writing. You cover so much and somehow you cover it so completely. Obviously Christopher has many years ahead of him but you have managed to make a whole of the book, not just some slices of life.

Your selection of incidents is brilliant and you seem to me to use just the right amount of dialogue to bring the characters to life. (What about trying a play?)

Metroland

You treat the loss of virginity admirably – though I do rather hanker for some of the soul-searching on your typewriter which you mentioned to me in a letter. Again and again I get the impression that you are describing something that actually happened to you. As I gather from Laurien that this is by no means the case it must be due to the intensity of your imagination. Obviously the end of the book hasn’t happened to you, but I found it both true and moving.

I do hope we can meet soon but, even if you could spare the time, things are difficult for us. Our Mrs Ridgewell is still partly incapacitated (we haven’t been able to have any visitors since before Christmas) and Alec is still in the grip of very painful lumbago, fibrositis or what not, which a doctor, a consultant plus two Xrays haven’t been able to shift. It keeps almost going and then comes back. However, we do hope it won’t be too long before we can see you, talk more about your book, and meet Pat. For the moment, our love and many many congratulations.

                                                                            Dodie.

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