Paperback 6" x 9" 315 pages
ISBN 978-0-244-70104-8 Published July 2018
Alan Dent was born in
in 1951. He has published five volumes of poetry, four collections
of translations from French, a book of reviews of contemporary
poetry, five collections of short stories and nine novels under a
pen name (all to be re-issued under his own name) and is the founder
and editor of The Penniless Press and its successor, MQB.
In its readiness to listen in on the speech of
a wide variety of ordinary, working people, and to give us insights
into the texture of their daily lives, Dent's writing is not merely
unfashionable, it is like very little that is currently being
written (or anyway published.) It does however remind me of that
fine, scandalously neglected American writer, Nelson Algren. Like
Algren, Dent's socialism, while never reductive, is integral to his
vision of what life is and what it could be. And like Algren, he
makes satisfying stories out of what happens to happen to the kind
of people whose existence, when it's noticed at all, is for the most
part caricatured or sentimentalized. In other words, Dent testifies
to the value of Camus's claim that art is nobody's enemy, because it
opens the prisons and gives voice to the sorrows and joys of all.
You don't need to travel far to find a story.
They're all around you if you keep your eyes and ears open, which is
what a good writer does. A man comes home from the army, meets the
miseries of post-war Britain, gets a job as a salesman, prospers,
marries, opens his own shop, and then loses everything when he takes
a fancy to one of his assistants. A teacher with high ideals has
them challenged by disruptive pupils. Someone with early ambitions
to be an artist is pushed into a mundane job and a joyless marriage.
And a report in a local newspaper about the death of a woman causes
a man to reflect on their one meeting when they were teenagers, and
the fact that he'd never forgotten her. Everyday stories in ordinary
settings. Dent tells them directly in a way that shows a real
concern for people and their problems.
These stories put me in mind of Gissing and
Richard Yates – who in their very different centuries and countries
mercilessly exposed the threadbare materialistic dreams of the
middle classes. Neither of those admirable writers was hugely
popular, nor ever, in the glib sense, populist, but both were true
and powerful storytellers. Dent too is a disabused social critic,
moralist and analyst of human nature, someone who castigates
snobbery and hypocrisy with sardonic often heart-rending honesty.
Dent shares their bitter sense of humour and keen sympathy for all
failures and misfits - anyone trapped by blighted relationships and
thwarted ambitions. Dent’s distinctive voice is overdue for
discovery and strikes a highly relevant if unsettling chord in the
genteel jungle of contemporary British literature.