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Cole, Barry

COLE, Barry

Nationality: British. Born: Woking, Surrey, 13 November 1936. Education: Balham Secondary School, London. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force, 1955-57. Family: Married Rita Linihan in 1958; three daughters. Career: Since 1958, staff member, Reuters news agency, London; reporter, 1965-70, and senior editor, 1974-94, Central Office of Information, London. Northern Arts Fellow, universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Durham, 1970-72. Address: 68 Myddelton Square, London EC1R 1XP, England.

Publications

Novels

A Run Across the Island. London, Methuen, 1968.

Joseph Winter's Patronage. London, Methuen, 1969.

The Search for Rita. London, Methuen, 1970.

The Giver. London, Methuen, 1971.

Doctor Fielder's Common Sense. London, Methuen, 1972.

Poetry

Blood Ties. London, Turret, 1967.

Ulysses in the Town of Coloured Glass. London, Turret, 1968.

Moonsearch. London, Methuen, 1968.

The Visitors. London, Methuen, 1970.

Vanessa in the City. London, Trigram Press, 1971.

Pathetic Fallacies. London, Eyre Methuen, 1973.

The Rehousing of Scaffardi. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1976.

Dedications. Nottingham, Byron Press, 1977.

*

Barry Cole comments:

I have no general statement to make about my novels, but the epigraphs which precede The Giver may say more than any collected exegeses.

* * *

Barry Cole's novels have one striking thing in common: they are extremely well-written. It may, of course, be said that to write well is not so much a virtue in a novelist as a necessity. Yet the fact is that the majority of novelists lack Cole's gifts of verbal precision, wit, exact ear for conversation, and his feeling for the elastic possibilities of language, the way it can be stretched and twisted to provide unexpected meanings and insights. No doubt the fact that he is also a very fine poet accounts for much of his virtue as a writer of prose, but this should not be taken to mean that he writes poetic prose. On the contrary: his style is as free as possible from those encrustations of adjective and epithet that identify "fine" writing.

A Run Across the Island is a brilliant tour de force and for it Cole invented a form that he has used for all his subsequent novels. Although by far the larger part of the novel is seen through the eyes of its hero, Robert Haydon, there is no straightforward narrative or division into chapters. Instead, we move about in time, each remembered detail or incident given a section, small or large, that is juxtaposed against others. By the end of the novel, however, the different incidents have been worked out and together compose one man's life, and it has been so resourcefully done that we have a much more real sense of a man's identity than we would have through a straightforward narrative.

The major theme of A Run Across the Island is, perhaps, of loneliness, of the difficulties of establishing relationships, of the slippery impermanence of friendship and love, and this theme is also present in the next novel. Joseph Winter's Patronage is, however, very different from A Run Across the Island in that its characters are almost exclusively old people. Indeed, the novel is mostly set in a retirement home, and the novelist manages with great sensitiveness to create the feeling of the home itself and of its inhabitants. Joseph Winter's Patronage is the most touching and warmly sympathetic novel that Cole has so far written.

By contrast, The Search for Rita is the most glittering. It is an extremely elegant novel, but the elegance is not one that marks how far its author stands fastidiously aloof from life. It is rather that the mess of life is met by a keen-eyed wit that can be ironic, self-deprecatory, satiric, and bawdy by turns. Style means everything in a novel of this kind, and the novelist's style does not let him down.

John Lucas

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