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Jarndyce, The 19th Century Booksellers

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The Grass Arena. An autobiography, with an introduction by Colin McCabe.

FIRST EDITION. Half title; edges sl. toned. Orig. black cloth. Black, green & red pictorial d.w., unclipped. A lovely bright copy. One of the great memoirs of the twentieth century, but no Bright Young Things here. The Grass Arena chronicles Healy's life as a homeless alcoholic and is told in a fast, fragmented style, to utterly absorbing effect. Unnervingly episodic, the narrator cannot see beyond the next bottle, fight, or doorway to sleep in, and consequently nor can the reader. The arena of the title is the drinkers' park in which most of the (largely horrifying) action takes place. While in prison, Healy learns chess from a cellmate and becomes so obsessed by the game (which he initially sees as a proxy for violence) that he gives up drinking and devotes his life to it, becoming a highly accomplished player who can defeat four opponents simultaneously while blindfolded. The book was initially an enormous success, and earned comparisons to Burroughs and Genet which, while accurate in terms of vitality and talent, were wide of the mark in other ways. Burroughs and Genet were afforded degrees of decadent glamour, while Healy (whose prose is harder and sparer in any case) was only briefly in favour with the literary establishment. In a dispute over royalties, he allegedly threatened to attack Robert McCrum (then director of Faber) with an axe, and the book was declared out of print. A troubling and essential work. Readers are further directed to Paul Duane's 2011 documentary, Barbaric Genius.
book (2)

The Green Hat. A Sentimental Novel.

FIRST EDITION. Half title; prelims & edges a little spotted, mark to upper edge. Following pastedown v. sl. marked. Orig. brown cloth; small mark to rear board. Black, green & red pictorial d.w., unclipped; sl. rubbed, creased & marked with the odd closed tear. 17-line ALS to 'My dear Seymour' loosely inserted. Bookplate of Michael Diamond on leading pastedown. A nice bright copy of a scarce book. Extremely uncommon in the dustjacket. A kind of Pelham for the Bright Young Things, The Green Hat became a bestseller that exerted an enormous influence on the decade in which it was published - a savage but strangely unmalicious satire that thrilled its Bohemian targets. Arlen (who was born Dikran Sarkis Kouyoumdjian and fled persecution in Armenia as a child) was an impeccably dressed, charming and generous dandy who drove about in a bright yellow Rolls Royce and had intimate knowledge of the milieu he was sending up. The protagonist, Iris Storm, was modelled on Nancy Cunard and 'set a new fashion in fatal charmers'. The book's sardonic, sophisticated decadence puts it alongside The Great Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited as one of the defining novels of the 1920s. The novel was hugely controversial in its day, and the film adaptation was released under the title A Woman of Affairs and sanitised the novel's plot (omitting syphilis, heroin use, and homosexuality) to keep the censors onside. The undated 17-line ALS is on notepaper from the May Fair Hotel, round the corner from Shepherd Market where the novel takes place, is affectionate in tone ('will you be a dear fellow and ring me up here when you can get away from Brixton') and ends by perfectly evoking Arlen's love for the setting: 'I can't tell you how excited I am to be back again in the only romantic city in the world'.