Friday, 19 June 2009

Forgotten Book - Israel Rank


One of the finest films ever made, at least in my opinion, is Kind Hearts and Coronets, that witty and ingenious Ealing movie starring Alec Guiness and Denis Price. But how many people have read the book upon which the film is based? Or even know that it was called Israel Rank, and that its author was Roy Horniman?

This novel is my pick for Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books. It was first published in 1907. It’s darker in tone than the movie and different in various other ways, but this ‘autobiography of a criminal’ strikes me as conspicuously modern in several respects, perhaps above all in its relentless irony. There has been some debate as to whether it has anti-Semitic elements; one or two people seem to have thought so, but most commentators today tend to regard this as a complete mis-reading of the way Horniman seeks to parody the anti-Semitism of Edwardian England.

Israel Rank has long been legendary for its scarcity. I searched in vain for it for years, until finally coming across a reprint that was published just before the movie came out. Copies have always commanded high prices – until now. Faber Finds, an excellent print-on-demand service, have made it available at a very affordable cost. They deserve congratulation

And what of Roy Horniman? He wrote a number of other novels, and I recently picked up a copy of The Viper, but have yet to read it. Splendidly, he was also responsible for a book called How To Make the Railways Pay for the War. The sub-title was A Transport Problem Solved. Ah, if only…..

16 comments:

Philip said...

A little trivia about this splendid movie. It's not a thing widely known that both Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh worked on the screenplay, though supposedly their labours had no place in the final product. What took me aback was just one mention in a place I now forget that another writer who worked on it was Laurence Kitchin, the actor, writer and translator (for the screen he wrote The Bad Lord Byron) who became a most distinguished and eminently quotable drama critic and teacher, notably in the realms of Shakespeare and modern British drama. I enjoyed a great friendship with Laurence when he occasionally, and not very happily, sojourned as visiting professor on the English faculty -- not my own -- at my then-university on this side of the Atlantic, but in our wide-ranging conversation, this labour of his on Kind Hearts never came up, much regretted by me when I later saw that passing mention. As critic for the Observer, he reviewed Christie's The Unexpected Guest, not his usual fodder, and a quotation from that review in the Wikipedia entry on the play is well worth a look -- he had a way of getting to the heart of the matter in a sentence or two and with great style.

Jilly said...

I have searched in vain for 'Israel Rank' so thank you for highlighting the Faber reprint. 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' is one of my all time favourite films - it is a masterpiece.

David Cranmer said...

I've heard the film of Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of a kind. When I do get around to it, I will start with the book because the "darker in tone" is most appealing.

R. T. said...

Thanks for highlighting ISRAEL RANK by Roy Horniman, which I must now find and read. FYI, I have launched my own "forgotten books" feature at Booked For Murder, and today's title is from 2004, THE CLOVIS INCIDENT, a mystery by Pari Noskin Taichert (University of New Mexico Press, May 2004).

pattinase (abbott) said...

They really do an author a disservice when they change the title this drastically-although I much say the movie title is better.

Scott Parker said...

As an American, I enjoy reading your FFBs every week as they feature forgotten British mysteries. I'm just now learning to appreciate them, thanks to Foyle's War. Your reviews are developing into my British Mystery Reading List. Thanks.

Martin Edwards said...

Philip, that's a great bit of reminiscence. And I do like his Christie quote - I've read The Unexpected Guest, but never seen it.

Martin Edwards said...

David, as Jilly says, the film is a masterpiece. I'm sure you won't be disappointed by either it or the book.

Martin Edwards said...

R.T. - thanks for the link. I had the pleasure of meeting Pari last year but haven't read that book.
I must add your blog to the blogroll asap.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Scott - thanks for this, and of course I enjoy visiting your blog as well.

Philip said...

Pattinase, I don't think there was any alternative to a drastic change in this case. Four years after the revelation of the concentration camps, the writers were surely not about to try to translate to the screen the satirical aspects of Israel Rank's portrayal, nor Alec Guinness, after the controversy over his Fagin, to portray such a character, nor Michael Balcon to produce such a movie, and certainly not J. Arthur Rank(!) to distribute it. The writers really did need to remove the whole a good distance from the original, and most certainly in title.

Philip said...

Blooper alert -- I should have said in my last comment that Guinness would not have likely been involved with the movie, not portrayed the character -- that was Dennis Price, of course. Been a long golden day and the purple night approaches. Time to rest.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Philip. Although book and movie are so different, it's rare that both are so outstanding.

Paul Brazill said...

Not a lot of people know that -including me and I love 'Kind Hearts. ' Great call!

Anonymous said...

It really is a great book. I have a a copy (a 1948 edition). I am trying to insure my ever expanding rare book collecion and boy, is it hard to have valuations done. Does anyone have any clue about this edition? I don't care much on a personal level because it is such a fun book, and I only paid 25 cents for it. So, what is a realistic value?

Martin Edwards said...

A very good question, Anonymous, but I don't know the answer. Anyone?