As you will no doubt know, I have never pretended to be in the business of hunting ‘big’ prey. I have always tended to stalk the outer regions of culture, tenaciously tramping up and down the mountains of obscurity, creeping into thorny hedgerows, clambering over high-fenced boundaries and crawling through the tunnels that gather, like an orgy of earthworms, underneath the ancient bunkers.
This approach has its drawbacks, the most notable of which is that much of the literature I love is, as recently noted, far from easy to obtain. Indeed, it is a sad irony that the reviews of neglected novels that I have either written or commissioned are, it seems, more readily available than the books themselves. Still, what can you do? Far be it from me to abandon this lonely furrow of mine.
If I do occasionally wander, like a wayward weasel, onto the flat, central plains of ‘common thought’ it is usually only to vent anger. Last week, for example, I fired a weak shot or two in the direction of a Mr Campbell – a knowingly futile gesture, which nevertheless provided a stab or two of pleasure (due to be dulled in future months, when Campbell’s books start flying off the shelves of large London bookstores).
Ah, but the situation isn’t all that hopeless, is it? Sure, there may not be towers of the latest book by Oa Aayorta punctuating the carpets of your local Waterstones, but developments in publishing are making it possible for some of the more engaging writers to reach the audience they deserve.
Take this book, for example. If God were in the habit of having his or her way, this noble work would probably be compulsory reading for everyone who wanders, walks and squirms upon this charmingly squalid earth of ours. Alas, the deities haven’t been taking much part in literary matters recently, which is why it falls to people like me to scramble around for adequate ways of doing justice to yet another great example of ‘Arts That Be Sadly Overlooked’ .
For those who aren’t in the know, allow me to address, briefly, the following simple question. Why read Frank Key? Carelessly skipping over his masterly grasp of the English language, one must begin by praising his simultaneously scholarly and engaging (yes, you can have both) contributions to the increasingly exigent field of ‘Dobsonia’. As you might have guessed, this refers to the study of Dobson, the notorious out-of-print pamphleteer – a criminally overlooked artist in his own right, whom Key does his level best to bring back into life, both in his pomp and, it must be said, in his less gleeful moments also.
As a chronicler of Dobson’s deeds, Key would have already earned himself a place in the annals of obscure yet flagrant worthiness. Luckily for us, his literary project extends beyond Dobson, touching a range of equally engrossing subjects, from the eternally intriguing goings-on in Pointy Town to an essential note or two on the manufacture of Balsa Wood Crows. In fact, there are few subjects which he will not pursue, with little fear of where they may lead him. Key is, essentially, the kind of writer who gives digression a good name. He doesn’t shove you off the forest path into a ditch of turgid divagation, as some clumsy writers will, but nudges you hither and thither, in and out of the soft shadows, this way and that, that way and this, until it doesn’t really matter where you are, so long as Mr Key is in control.
On this point, I shall resist the temptation to spiral off into another paragraph of poorly-structured praise, calming still-thirsty souls with the faint promise that I may, possibly, return to this subject in the near-future. On the off-chance that I don’t, however, you may console yourselves in the best way possible, by returning to the texts themselves – most, if not all, of which are collected here (though you are, of course, also advised to buy them in book form here).