I had copies of Josephine Hart's two novels, Damage and Sin, sitting on my bookshelves long before I read them. And when I finally picked Damage up, it was only after I'd seen Louis Malle's powerful film adaptation of the title starring Juliette Binoche and Jeremy Irons - I couldn't believe I hadn't discovered them earlier.
Hart's novels are both slight volumes, and there's a complimentary precision and stripped-down tautness to her prose, but don't be fooled by appearances; each packs a devastatingly powerful punch.
Earlier this month, Hart's publishers Virago, her agent Ed Victor, and her widower Maurice Saatchi held a party at the Ivy to mark the Virago Modern Classics publication of the two works. Hart's friends and family gathered alongside members of the publishing and literary worlds to celebrate both the novels and her life.
Victor talked eloquently about his author and her work, explaining that he first learnt that Hart was writing a novel (Damage) over a late dinner at Scotts with her and Saatchi. "I said what I always say," he recounted. "'May I read it?'" That was that; he was captivated from the first page. The work later inspired a similar reaction in his friend Malle - he rang Victor the morning after the agent had handed him a copy of the novel, beginning the conversation with the words, "You bastard, I was up all night reading ..."
The great absence of the evening was of course Hart herself since her death earlier this year, but this also made the reissue of the novels ever more poignant.
Lennie Goodings, the Publisher at Virago, was visibly emotional as she spoke movingly about Hart's place of the Modern Classics list, recalling the author's pleasure when she saw the cover designs of the new editions - Damage's is a single red rose, it's thorny stem slicing straight down the middle of the cover rending the title in two.
Goodings received 24 long stemmed roses with a card quoting Marianne Moore "Your thorns are the best part of you" as thanks, and the lily that graces the cover of Sin inspired a bouquet of lilies for the designer.
These beautiful designs remained a talking point for the rest of the evening, proving that books themselves are important legacies of their authors. As Victor (an agent who through his recently established ebook and Print On Demand service, Bedford Square Books, is notably unafraid of embracing the additional opportunities that technology presents to publishers) declared at the very beginning of the evening: "Anyone who says that the book is dead doesn't know what they're talking about".
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