Sunday, 30 August 2009

Celia Fremlin


I was sorry to learn that Celia Fremlin, a British suspense novelist of genuine distinction, died earlier this summer. I only found out because I read an obituary notice by Rebecca Tope in the CWA’s private members’ newsletter. If her passing has been discussed in the newspapers, or online (and surely it must have been?) then I have missed it.

One thing is for sure – Fremlin’s work is not talked about too much these days. But it deserves to be, because she was a class act. To my regret, I only met her once, very briefly, at a CWA conference in the early nineties. Her sixteenth and last novel appeared not long after, in 1994, when she was 78.

The lack of attention paid to Fremlin’s work is all the more sobering when one reflects on the immediate impact she made when her first novel, The Hours Before Dawn, appeared in 1958. It’s a good title and an even better book – it went on to win an Edgar. My copy is a 1988 reprint, which benefits from a pithy preface by Fremlin. The story involves a harassed mother, Louise Henderson, who lives in suburbia and who takes in a lodger with unexpected consequences. The domestic milieu is very well drawn, and Fremlin was one of those who led the way in developing the psychological suspense set in recognisable everyday surroundings.

It’s a long time since I read Fremlin, but although I can’t remember much about them, I do know that The Spider-Orchid and Appointment with Yesterday were good books, written by a novelist both sensitive and intelligent. Are any readers of this blog Fremlin fans? I hope so, for she should not be forgotten.

21 comments:

Maxine said...

I too am very sorry to read this, and didn't know. I avidly read all of Celia Fremlin's books (yellow Gollancz editions) when I was a teenager. I think (dim memory) that I discovered her, Hillary Waugh, James Hadley Chase and Ruth Rendell all at about the same time via my local library, and this opened my eyes to the fact that there was a crime fiction genre post Sherlock Holmes! I dropped sci fi forthwith and the rest is history. So thank you to Celia Fremlin for those great early introductions to the genre.

Martin Edwards said...

I came across her work rather later in my reading, but was certainly impressed. It's a shame that her name has already slipped so far from view.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I certainly remember reading her books along with so many other writers of that era. Sorry to hear of her death.

Minnie said...

Yes, definitely "sensitive" and "intelligent" - very to both, I think. I remember her as a woman who used to take marathon walks across London at dead of night, a thin, rather conventional-looking figure, walking resolutely through some decidedly dodgy neighbourhoods. So she had the courage to back up her curiosity about places and people.
Thank you for the post. Great blog, BTW! Already familiar with your work, so fascinating to see & read some further background.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I knew from Rebecca Tope that Fremlin was in a nursing home and am sorry to hear that she has passed away. _The Hours before Dawn_ is genuinely chilling. And I'm glad to say that Academy Chicago Publishers has kept two Fremlin titles in print: _The Hours before Dawn_ and _The Jealous One_:

http://www.academychicago.com/subjectlist.html#mystery

Pericles said...

My late mother was an avid fan of Fremlin's novels, always genuinely pleased to find one she'd never read before.

Good memories.

seana said...

I recognize her name but haven't read her. I'm glad to know that she is in print to some extent over here. I will look for her work.

Martin Edwards said...

Minnie and Pericles, welcome to this blog! And thanks for your kind remarks, Minnie.
Beth - many thanks for this info.
Seana - yes, it's striking how quickly books and authors slip out of print. If you try Fremlin, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Jan Burke said...

I'm very sorry to hear this news. She was so talented. The Hours Before Dawn should not only be required reading for anyone looking for great novels of suspense, but it should also be taught in women's history classes.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jan. Well said!

Dean James said...

Celia Fremlin certainly deserves to be better known; The Hours Before Dawn is a true classic. I also recommend The Parasite Person which I found to be an interesting study of the type of person who feeds off the emotions of others.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Dean. It's not a book I know, but it sounds very interesting.

Janet Rudolph said...

I was very sad to learn of her passing. I've used The Hours Before Dawn in many of my classes and bookgroups. Positively chilling. Definitely an Edgar award winning novel that holds up to time.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Janet. I have been pleased to see that quite a number of very good judges still rememeber and value her work.

vegetableduck said...

I can't believe I'm just hearing about her death over two months after it occurred! Did it get no news coverage in Britain?! That's absurd. Fremlin's one of the key figures in Britain in the transition of the detective puzzle novel to psychological crime novel. Most of her books may be undeservedly forgotten now, but The Hours Before Dawn is recognized by specialists, at least, as a genre milestone.

I thought about trying to get in touch with her for my book, but she seemed so elderly I was afraid it might be very challenging. She would have been nearly 95 when she died. Like Sayers, she was a Somerville woman, quite accomplished. Her books offer fascinating looks at social change in England, in addition to be corking thrillers.

Xavier said...

Sad, sad news. Of course The Hours Before Dawn is excellent, but I liked The Long Shadow even better - a wonderful piece of creepiness, all the more effective because of the daily, domestic setting.

vegetableduck said...

I've been looking around the net blogs and everyone seems to have gotten the news from Martin. That amazes me. Was there no print obituary in a major newspaper? When Andrew Garve and Michael Gilbert died, they both received excellent obituaries (as they should have, but so should have Fremlin).

Martin Edwards said...

Curt and Xavier - it's not often that I break news! And it's a shame it is sad news - also that it is so long after the event. I do agree that it's regrettable that the newspapers seem to have overlooked her death completely. Such a significant writer deserved better.

Sheri said...

I know this is well after the fact, but I stumbled upon your blog while googling Celia Fremlin! I found this obituary in The Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6826388.ece - there was also a short one in the Guardian. Agree that she was a very under-appreciated writer - compelling and claustrophobic. I read many of her books when I was younger and intend to re-read them soon.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Sheri, good to hear from you.

Nicholas Reed said...

I knew Celia and her husband Leslie Minchin from the 1950s, when they were living at 11 Parkhill Road in Hampstead, in Henry Moore's old flat, and then later at 50 South Hill Park. My parents, also Hampstead residents,knew them in the Progressive League from the 1930s, and I have written about their friendship in my book "My Father, the Man Who Never was"(2011).
Celia's husband told me that she was little known in Britain because she was represented here by a personal friend who was, frankly, not very good as her agent. But abroad she was better represented, which is why her books were (and still are?) better known in Germany. Perhaps her rather dark psychological novels fit the German character better?
Nicholas Reed