Gordon, Giles (Alexander Esme)

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GORDON, Giles (Alexander Esme)

Nationality: British. Born: Edinburgh, 23 May 1940. Education: Edinburgh Academy, 1948-57. Family: Married 1) Margaret Anna Eastoe in 1964 (died 1989); two sons (one deceased, 1994) and one daughter; 2) Margaret Anne McKernan in 1990, two daughters. Career: Advertising executive, Secker and Warburg, publishers, London, 1962-63; editor, Hutchinson Publishing Group, London, 1963-64, and Penguin Books, London, 1964-66; editorial director, Victor Gollancz, publishers, London, 1967-72. Since 1972 partner, Anthony Sheil Associates, literary agents, London. Lecturer in Creative Writing, in London, for Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, 1971-76; C. Day Lewis Fellow in Writing, King's College, London, 1974-75; lecturer in drama, in London, for Hollins College, Virginia, 1984-85. Editor, Drama magazine, London, 1982-84; theater critic, Spectator, London, 1983-84, Punch and House Magazine, both London 1985-87, and London Daily News, 1988. Since 1993 books' columnist, London Times. Member: Arts Council of Great Britain Literature Panel, 1966-69, and Society of Authors Committee of Management, 1973-75. Awards: Transatlantic Review prize, 1966; Scottish Arts Council grant, 1976, Fellow. Royal Society of Literature, 1990. Agent: Sheil Land Associates Ltd., 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England. Address: 6 Ann St., Edinburgh EH4 1PG, Scotland.



The Umbrella Man. London, Allison and Busby, 1971.

About a Marriage. London, Allison and Busby, and New York, Stein and Day, 1972.

Girl with Red Hair. London, Hutchinson, 1974.

100 Scenes from Married Life: A Selection. London, Hutchinson, 1976.

Enemies: A Novel about Friendship. Hassocks, Sussex, HarvesterPress, 1977.

Ambrose's Vision: Sketches Towards the Creation of a Cathedral. Brighton, Harvester Press, 1980.

Short Stories

Pictures from an Exhibition. London, Allison and Busby, and NewYork, Dial Press, 1970.

Penguin Modern Stories 3, with others. London, Penguin, 1970.

Farewell, Fond Dreams. London, Hutchinson, 1975.

The Illusionist and Other Fictions. Hassocks, Sussex, HarvesterPress, 1978.

Couple. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1978.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Line-up on the Shore," in Mind in Chains, edited by Christopher Evans. London, Panther, 1970.

"The Partition," in Triangles, edited by Alex Hamilton. London, Hutchinson, 1973.

"Crampton Manor," in The Ninth Ghost Book, edited by RosemaryTimperley. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1973.

"Peake," in The Eleventh Ghost Book, edited by Aidan Chambers. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1975.

"Morning Echo," in The Sixteenth Pan Book of Horror Stories, edited by Herbert Van Thal. London, Pan, 1975.

"In Spite of Himself," in The Twelfth Ghost Book. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1976.

"Horses of Venice," in The Thirteenth Ghost Book, edited by JamesHale. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1977.

"The Necessary Authority," in The Midnight Ghost Book, edited byJames Hale. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1978.

"Room, With Woman and Man," in New Stories 3, edited by FrancisKing and Ronald Harwood. London, Hutchinson, 1978.

"Liberated People," in Modern Scottish Short Stories, edited by FredUrquhart and Gordon. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

"The Red-Headed Milkman," in The Punch Book of Short Stories, edited by Alan Coren. London, Robson, 1979.

"Screens," in Labrys 4 (Hayes, Middlesex), 1979.

"Mask," in The After Midnight Ghost Book, edited by James Hale. London, Hutchinson, 1980; New York, Watts, 1981.

"Drama in Five Acts," in New Terrors 2, edited by Ramsey Campbell. London, Pan, 1980.

"Madame Durand," in Punch (London), 19 November 1980.

"The Indian Girl," in Winter's Tales 27, edited by Edward Leeson. London, Macmillan, 1981; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1982.

"Three Resolutions to One Kashmiri Encounter," in Scottish Short Stories 1981. London, Collins, 1981.

"Your Bedouin," in Logos (London), 1982.

"The South African Couple," in Scottish Short Stories 1983. London, Collins, 1983.

"A Bloomsbury Kidnapping," in London Tales, edited by JulianEvans. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

"Father Christmas, Father Christmases," in A Christmas Feast, edited by James Hale. London, Macmillan, 1983.

"The Wheelchair," in New Edinburgh Review 61, 1983.

"The Battle of the Blind," in New Edinburgh Review 65, 1984.

"Hans Pfeifer," in Winter's Tales 1 (new series), edited by DavidHughes. London, Constable, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985.

"Mutual of Omaha," in Critical Quarterly (Manchester), Winter1988.


Radio Plays:

Nineteen Policemen Searching the Sedway Shore, 1976;The Jealous One, 1979; Birdy, from the novel by William Wharton, 1980.


Landscape Any Date. Edinburgh, M. Macdonald, 1963.

Two and Two Make One. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1966.

Two Elegies. London, Turret, 1968.

Eight Poems for Gareth. Frensham, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1970.

Between Appointments. Frensham, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1971.

Twelve Poems for Callum. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1972.

One Man Two Women. London, Sheep Press, 1974.

Egyptian Room, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.

The Oban Poems. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.


Book 2000: Some Likely Trends in Publishing. London, Association of Assistant Librarians, 1969.

Walter and the Balloon (for children). London, Heinemann, 1973.

The Twentieth-Century Short Story in English: A Bibliography. London, British Council, 1990.

Aren't We Due a Royalty Statement?: A Stern Account of Literary, Publishing and Theatrical Folk. London, Chatto and Windus, 1993.

Editor, with Alex Hamilton, Factions: Eleven Original Stories. London, Joseph, 1974.

Editor, with Michael Bakewell and B.S. Johnson, You Always Remember the First Time. London, Quartet, 1975.

Editor, Beyond the Words: Eleven Writers in Search of a New Fiction. London, Hutchinson, 1975.

Editor, with Dulan Barber, " Members of the Jury ": The Jury Experience. London, Wildwood House, 1976.

Editor, Prevailing Spirits: A Book of Scottish Ghost Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1976.

Editor, A Book of Contemporary Nightmares. London, Joseph, 1977.

Editor, with Fred Urquhart, Modern Scottish Short Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1978; revised edition, London, Faber, 1982.

Editor, Shakespeare Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1982.

Editor, Modern Short Stories 2: 1940-1980. London, Dent, 1982.

Editor, with David Hughes, Best Short Stories 1986 [-1995]. London, Heinemann, 10 vols., 1986-95; vols. 4-6 as The Best English Short Stories 1989-1991. New York, Norton, 3 vols., 1989-91.

Editor, English Short Stories: 1900 to the Present. London, Dent, 1988.

Editor, with David Hughes, The Minerva Book of Short Stories 1-6. London, Minerva, 6 vols., 1990-95.

Editor, Cocktails at Doney's and Other Stories, by William Trevor. London, 1996.

Editor, The Fisherman and His Soul and Other Fairy Tales, by OscarWilde. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998.

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Relationships lie at the root of Giles Gordon's novels and short stories, relationships between man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, husband and wife, lover and loverand also the relationship between the writer and the reader. In his first novel, The Umbrella Man, Gordon was content to view the burgeoning affair between Felix and Delia from the outside, using the technique that a film director might bring to bear in building up a scene from different camera angles. This is a device of which Gordon is particularly fond, and its exposition is seen to good effect in his story "Nineteen Policemen Searching the Solent Shore."

About a Marriage is a more straightforward narrative in which the seeming detritus of modern married life assumes a form that the protagonists, the husband and wife, can understand. A reasonably well-off couple Edward and Ann, move from a bland acceptance of their marriage to a blazing revelation of the strengths of their relationship and of the bond that exists between them. Their love is based not so much on a romantic attachment, although that is also present, as on the many-sided passions and frustrations that ultimately give each partner a vivid insight into their own strengths and weaknesses. Of growing importance in this novel is Gordon's mastery of dialogue and his relaxed ability to enter the minds of his characters who cease to exist as mere ciphers and have grown into stark, living creatures.

Enemies ("A Novel about Friendship") is in the now-familiar Gordon mold of a terse examination of how people relate to each other in familiar and not so familiar circumstances, but its stylistic achievement lies in his ability to strip the central narrative line to a series of scenes which embody sharp dialogue with an internalization of the characters' thoughts and emotions. The Hiltons live in an unspecified European country, and the action centers on the events of a few days while they are being visited by their parents and friends from England. Events outside their house, which at the beginning of the novel seems to be so secure against outside interference, threaten the fabric of their cozy world as it becomes a microcosm of a beleaguered society with all its concomitant stresses. Faced with the center falling away, the adults find their relationships shifting uneasily before they reach the triumphant conclusion of the salving power of their own friendships.

100 Scenes from Married Life picks up again the story of Edward and Ann. The intensity of their love for each other is still apparent, but growing self-doubt and encroaching middle age, with its sense of the loss of youth and vitality, gnaw at Edward's vitals. Interestingly, as if to prove the security of their marriage, Gordon disconcertingly opens the first scene with Edward returning from a week in Venice with his mistress. The novel's title reflects Gordon's debt to Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, and in a series of eighteen scenes he has captured the warm, womblike, yet claustrophobic story of a close relationship. The inscription is from Philip Roth's My Life as a Man: "You want subtlety, then read The Golden Bowl. This is life, bozo, not high art." And there are many echoes from Roth's and John Updike's style in Gordon's low-key examination of the matter of middle-class life.

With those two American writers he also shares an interest in language and the economy of its use. At his best he is able to strip his sentences to an almost surreal invisibility which is allied disconcertingly to a lively, sparkling wit. His first collection of what Gordon calls "short fictions," Pictures from an Exhibition, was stylistically naive but there was a sense of innovatory excitement as he adopted the attitude of the detached observer in his frequently startling revelations. Farewell, Fond Dreams continued many of the same conventions but it showed a surer touch as Gordon risked some breathtaking conceits in his mixture of fact and fantasy, as in the sequence "An attempt to make entertainment out of the war in Vietnam." The Illusionist and Other Fictions showed a return to calmer waters, with Gordon seeming to take a fresh interest in the traditional structure of the short story, although he can never lose sight completely of their liquid, three-dimensional possibilities. Critics have been frequently exasperated by the audacious verve of much of Gordon's writing, but he remains one of the few British writers interested in pushing the possibilities of the novel to their outer limits.

Trevor Royle