A package arrives, inside which is a copy of Kay Dick’s 1977 dystopian novel, Them: a sequence of discomfort, and a letter informing me that Faber will reissue it next month. Crikey, but isn’t it amazing? Dick, who died in 2001, is somewhat of a minority interest at this point. She didn’t write much and what she did is either pretty peculiar or pretty bad, although I’ll always love Ivy and Stevie, a collection of interviews with Ivy Compton-Burnett and Stevie Smith that wears her eccentricity like a fool’s hat (“I realized she had nice legs because so often she was digging under her skirt for her handkerchief , which she slipped into her panties,” Dick wrote of the premiere, which she first “called” on in 1950.)
But if the reappearance of this book is surprising, it is also ironic. In They, Britain is in the grip of a group of ruthlessly cruel Philistines: a mob that burns books and paintings, punishing all who resist. Faber hopes, very commendably, to bring it to a “new generation” of readers and help them do so, its edition comes with eulogies by Margaret Atwood and an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado.
The wrong thought comes to mind, however, that it’s really the publication itself that needs this book the most right now. As Machado notes: “Impulses of censorship…and soft bigotry are not the exclusive property of the right.
Dick’s novel is reborn in a world where some publishers (not Faber, I hope) are content to completely excise writers they were happy to publish only five minutes ago; in which social media seems to increasingly terrify editors; and where, at times, the Society of Authors is strangely silent. Never mind. The good news is that this spooky little novel can now be theirs – or anyone’s – for just £8.99.
Facing our fears
Back in the world, everything is both the same and subtly different. In the tube, I find myself transfixed by the advertisements in my car, which now speak with one voice about the pandemic. Like a dandelion piercing a crack in a cobblestone, capitalism resolutely locates our weaknesses and anxieties, the better to exploit them brazenly. Personalized vitamins (“we know you’re tired”), a weird concoction for unruly bowels, mindfulness delivered to your door in a little cardboard box. Be warned: the snake oil dealers are out in force.
Come to the Cabaret…
By the time you read this I will have finally seen Rebecca Frecknall’s new production of Cabaret, with Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, an evening that I had to remortgage the house to afford. (These ticket prices really evoke Weimar, I can tell you.) Am I going to be as high as a kite or suffer the mother of all highs? I do not know. But either way, at least my pre-show nerves will finally be gone.
Emails from the theater last week were enough to provoke an onslaught of vapers, their anhedonic tone somewhat at odds with their claiming to be from the Kit Kat Club, as if the place really existed. “Required action!” they order, after which follows a long list of instructions regarding Covid testing and arrival times. We were told to appear 75 minutes before the curtain went up, which seems crazy, especially since I couldn’t get two seats next to each other. Will we both be allowed to go to the same bar? Or will one of us end up – I’m reading the fine print now – in the place that only serves schnapps?