October 17, 2007

Stephen Benatar: Wish Her Safe at Home

Posted in Benatar Stephen, NYRB Classics at 7:16 pm by John Self

This book came to my attention through a brief review in the Guardian recently. It’s a reissue of a 1982 novel, and though the publisher is Welbeck Modern Classics, that review suggests it’s the author himself who’s behind this facade. And what caught my eye was not just the promise of an unreliable narrator – I’m such a pushover – but the cover design. Well, now that Penguin don’t want their classy Modern Classics cover design any more, why shouldn’t someone else borrow it?

It’s difficult to know how much I can say about Wish Her Safe at Home without spoiling it, but as the reviews on the back and inside of the book make aspects of it pretty clear, I can at least go that far. It’s narrated by Rachel Waring, a forty-something woman who has inherited a house in Bristol. For those sensitive to the strains of the unreliable narrator, our ears prick up when we hear on page 2 that “actually your father did once mention a strain of insanity in his family.” And then there are the previous inhabitants of the house, Rachel’s great aunt and her companion Bridget:

When Bridget had committed suicide at the age of eighty-four, Aunt Alicia, ten years her senior, had gone on living in the same house with Bridget’s body: a state of affairs which had come to light only after two weeks…

Oh. Ah. And did I mention how much she identifies with Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire? So it comes as both a shock, and no surprise at all, when Rachel decides on visiting the rundown house that she intends to live there herself (“I felt as if I’d never had a real home”). And as she inhabits it, so it begins to inhabit her. In particular she becomes fascinated by a former occupant of the house, a minor 18th century abolitionist called Horatio Gavin. As her interest swerves toward obsession, and she begins writing his life, simultaneously her relations with other people – dare one say, real people – are increasingly irregular: “These days I didn’t appear to like anybody very much. Everywhere, it seemed, I sensed ulterior motives.”

Her dealings with her gardener (“nicely tanned and muscular”), chemist (“it came as no surprise that he should be the strong and silent type. That was the kind of man I often found attractive”) and vicar (“He’d almost surely have a hairy chest”) are not always, well, regular, but now I really have reached the point where I can’t go any further for fear of spoiling it. The progression of the story in any event is not that surprising, but what Benatar has done which is remarkable is in the creation of Rachel’s voice and character. Eccentric, flaky, dotty, she is never unsympathetic or tiresome, and the skittishness of her movement from present to past is not just in keeping with the workings of her mind, but positively touching in its slow revelation of how the past infects the present. She is so alive and real that for a moment I was about to refer to the author as she.

Rachel’s need for a home and her sense of dislocation is beautifully done, and the book – to slip into reviewerly cliche – really is by turns funny, affecting and unnerving. If the outcome and storyline do not overwhelm by surprise, nonetheless the journey is increasingly pleasurable while it lasts. Benatar has given self-publishing a boon by bringing Wish Her Safe at Home back into print, and it might even show that one character’s faith in an unfair world is misplaced: “He must have thought that nothing could get any worse. But he should have listened to William Shakespeare, shouldn’t he? Things can always get worse.”

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62 Comments »

  1. Tony S. said,

    “funny, affecting and unnerving” – these are the qualities of a novel that I most appreciate. Sort of reminds me of “Bliss” by A.L. Kennedy, although none of her other books have done much for me. I hope I can find this novel by Stephen Benatar in the US, but suspect I won’t. .

  2. jem said,

    I like the sound of this one. Will add to my list. Unreliable narrators are so appealling – I feel I can relate to them better!

  3. Jenny said,

    I also saw the short review in The Guardian and it’s on my wishlist. I hadn’t seen the cover before – fantastic! It sounds like a goodie, glad you’ve reviewed it.

  4. John Self said,

    Yes Jenny, the cover doesn’t seem to be on show in the usual places (Amazon etc). I had to scan my own copy in. An Asylum exclusive!

  5. Beth said,

    Tony S., I just bought it from amazon marketplace. It won’t be the good cover, but it’s the good story! And here in the states to boot!

  6. John Murphy said,

    Hello all,

    I’m Stephen’s partner and ‘creator’/designer of the cover of ‘Wish Her Safe at Home’. I’ll not say anything here about how in other ways I helped to bring this book to fruition…what doesn’t kill one makes one stronger!

    A few things:

    The book had been seriously considered for reissue as a Penguin Modern Classic. However, Penguin finally decided that – whilst they very much liked the book – it hadn’t sold sufficiently well first time around, and they were worried reissuing it would prove an injudicious investment. As John Carey had by this time come on board, having very generously agreed to provide an Introduction (he was Chairman of the Booker Panel in 1982, when the book just missed the short-list), Stephen decided to self-publish the book. It must be said that his primary motivation is to keep his work ‘alive’, not to refill his recently-emptied coffers! Such is his desire to disseminate his work, he’s been working tirelessly to promote the book – on many weekends he can be found manning a store in Hampstead Community Centre. (This week he’s done a signing session in Harrods and today you can find him at Waterstone’s, 150-152 King’s Road, Chelsea, London, SW3. Indeed, I’ve just helped him down to the Tube station with boxes of books in sports bags. Go along: he’s very affable and is always happy to chat about his writing.)

    This is actually a revised version of the original novel. Stephen decided – on re-reading the original – it required some tightening up. Having read the original several times and the new version many more than several times, I can say that the new version has more solidity…in a good way!

    The statue on the cover (which features in the novel) is the ‘Street Orderly Boy’ by Donato Barcaglia of Milan (1849-1930) and is based in Paddington Street Recreation Gardens, Marylebone. As a boy, Stephen lived in the nearby Marylebone High Street and would often sit reading near to the statue. Book lovers take note: the High Street is home to Daunt Books bookshop – an Edwardian delight of a bookshop and well worth a visit. Stephen was fortunately able to launch his book there.

    Should anyone wish to purchase a copy of the book from Stephen directly (inscriptions optional), please e-mail me at: murphyjf@hotmail.co.uk. We’ll endeavour to turn around any orders a.s.a.p.

    A big thank you to John Self for doing his bit for the cause!

    Cheers,

    John

    • RomillyClose said,

      You both speak so well.

      I’m jealous. :)

    • Reading it now. Glad to find your comments

  7. Tony S. said,

    Beth,
    Thanks for the Amazon tip. I really appreciate it!
    Tony

  8. Sarah said,

    I don’t know if this is anything to do with anything but last week I bought the book in Harrods and met the author – what a lovely man! Very charming and beautifully dressed – you have to love a man in a neckerchief! (And I’m enjoying the book very much – so if you haven’t bought it yet, you really should!)

  9. John Self said,

    Hi Sarah, thanks for dropping by. Quink, a sometime commenter on this blog, also bought the book from the author in a bookshop and had a very pleasant chat with him, I understand.

    Thanks too to John Murphy above for his fascinating insight into the process. How shortsighted of Penguin to worry about the book not selling well enough – don’t they realise there are lots of readers like me who buy books specifically because they’re Penguin Modern Classics? I’ve lost count of the great writers I’ve discovered that way.

  10. Quink said,

    I bought this book on the basis of a chance meeting with the author in a ten-minute visit to my local Waterstone’s, looking, hurriedly as usual, for the out-of-range and the out-of-stock. The very fact that I still go to Waterstone’s is a vestige of the belief that once upon a time they met my reading needs, and, as with all bookshops – well, you never know, they may just have it. They rarely do. But at least they have first refusal.
    I noticed Stephen Benatar in the bookstore moments before he approached me and could see I was next in his catchment. I admired his public and gentle confidence (and the red neckerchief) in walking a bookstore informing browsers who he was and why he was in there, and that he would happily sign the book should they wish to buy it. I bought it quickly, the speed of my decision clearly to his surprise, on the basis of the blurb and quotes on the back, the name John Carey, and Carey’s last paragraph in his introduction. And Stephen’s public and gentle confidence.
    But it was chance, and happy chance at that. It brought me a wonderful piece of fiction. Written twenty-five years ago by a man, I guess, in his early thirties, it is a brave imagining of an older woman, love starved and virginal, going publicly and privately mad. Rachel Waring’s break from London, and from her über-realistic Londoner flatmate – the wonderful creation of Sylvia – is the beginning of her break from reality. Before Rachel moves through the gradations of disconnection, her story opens with her off-kilter levity and at this point in the narrative who would challenge her thought: “Wouldn’t it be fine if we all had second chances ?” (p.15) Stephen Benatar’s accomplishment is that we don’t challenge her, that we are with her all of the way to the sadness of an inevitability she cannot know.
    The milestones of her madness are well paced: on p.76 she lays out the second flute for her dinner for one; on p.89 comes the first “we” as she conflates her mind’s personae; and from then on it is the ring, the dress, wedlock and … of course … conception.
    Disturbingly, for the reader, the moments of lucidity are frightening, as if she was suffering the horror of Multi-Infarct Dementia (the one where, in brief moments of screaming, you realise you are going mad). Just before the first “we”, the already-noted: “A charmed life that carried a curse ? Or a cursed life that carried a charm ?” (p.88). But going on one sentence: “In short, I knew neither what sort of person I really was, nor how well I fitted in.” So, there was – then – an awareness, of a sort ……..
    How does a writer convey the interior of a character’s mind as the character goes mad ? I think Benatar, by means of fictional possibilities, rather than neurology dressed as fiction, succeeds creditably. His employment of anachronistic language (the Austenesque conversations with the Allsops), and obsolete idiom (gay, gaiety and all its variations and frequent placements), are examples which effect the transition from sanity to insanity. Added to which is the music hall optimism of the song fragments.
    Benatar does not ignore the sane comedy of Rachel’s madness – in the letter to the bank manager (one that many of us wish we could have written, especially with that crossed-out and substituted final word), and the numerous “Badedas” scenarios. And he also gives us a glimpse of the real world transacting with Rachel, the purchase of the wedding dress being a glimpse of the chilling humour of the two worlds existing in the same destabilising moment. The visit of Sylvia, earlier in the book, is one which the reader is yearning to take place, hoping that neither Sylvia or Rachel finds an excuse to avoid it. And the disconnection is there in the mundane when Rachel comments that, in spite of the continuous rain during Sylvia’s visit, “We’ve had a lovely summer.” To which the Sylvia of dogged reality replies: “Strange – when the rest of the country seems to have one of the coldest on record.”
    The last twenty pages record the final descent, and you know from the point when “two of their most important editors” join her on the park bench “one on either side” that her physical freedom is at an end. It was always going to be a tricky ending and Benatar pulls it off … just, and to his credit.
    In justice to the book, I ignored Carey’s introduction until I had finished it. He commented that Stephen Benatar’s wonderful fiction does not comply to a commonplace distillation of fictional narrative. Isn’t that the case with the best that fiction has to offer ? When fiction is brave ?

    Bravo, Mr Benatar.

    Shame on Penguin for not giving it an immediately wider audience. But good on the admirable Professor Carey for having the honesty to openly address past meekness, a trait I would never have imagined for one of our best critics.

    Q

  11. Quink said,

    I have a question for John (Murphy, not Self), if he comes back to the blog:

    Q: What was the genesis of the title ?

    Q

  12. John Self said,

    Good Q, Q. And excellent account of the book too, above. Thanks.

  13. Stephen Benatar said,

    My grateful thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion on Wish Her Safe at Home, especially to John Self and Quink – both of your reviews have been really insightful and enlightening. Little did I think at the signing sessions that I was meeting people who would be so kind as to air their thoughts in this way – I feel I would like to have given you a hug! I truly do appreciate all the interest that’s been shown.

    As to the genesis of the title, the book was originally going to be called Leave Her to Heaven (although there was already a film which had used this quotation) but I was scared that if the dust jacket wasn’t right this would give off a distinct whiff of Mills & Boon. I’ve always liked titles that have more than one meaning and Wish Her Safe at Home could equally convey Rachel’s long-held desire to find her place in heaven. It was a title that took me a long time to arrive at and I was happy to find that lots of people thought this might have come from Shakespeare too!

    Should you be interested, the following recently appeared in the local free paper:

    http://www.thecnj.co.uk/review/2007/102507/books102507_03.html

    If anyone has any futher questions or would like in any way to discuss the book with me, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

    Again, all this has been much appreciated.

    Stephen

    • Vera Michel said,

      Hi Stephen,

      Are you the same Stephen who worked at AF about a million years ago? In which case I typed one of your first ever books for you, so I feel slightly involved in your success!! Though, sadly, I can’t remember the name of the book so I don’t know if it ever saw the light of day; well, as I say, it was a long, long time ago.

      I’ve just read Wish Her Safe At Home which was bought for me by a friend you approached in Chiswick, Waterstones and the moment I saw your name it all came rushing back to me. (I hope you ARE that Stephen Benatar – can’t be two of you who are authors,surely?) otherwise you’ll think I’m a nutter. And speaking of nutters I thought your book was very good, creepy, but very good.

      Having looked you up I see that you do this sort of self publicising quite often and – having written a book with a friend, which we don’t know what to do with (?? very suspect grammar but it’s v late!!) I’d really like to have a chat with you over old times and old friends, also ask you about coming to a book club of which I’m a member (slightly better grammar) and perhaps get some ideas from you about self publishing.

      I do hope you read this and get in touch. And, again, very well done on the book – I couldn’t put it down and will search out your other books – perhaps even find the one I typed – something very sad about unrequited love which I couldn’t identify with at all at the time, in those halcyon days. But the world moves on, doesn’t it…….

      I hope to hear from you Stephen, whether you’re THAT Stephen or not. Does the name Regin mean anything to you?

      Best regards,

      Vera

      • John Self said,

        Thanks for your message Vera. I’ve passed your email address on to Stephen Benatar so that he can contact you directly. Thanks for sharing your memories of Stephen past and present!

    • Janet said,

      Hi Stephen,

      I’ve recently read your novel, Wish Her Safe at Home. It was loaned to me by my friend. We are confused about what happened to Rachel’s mother. My friend suspects that Rachel killed her. I did not get that at all. I was taken aback when at the end there is mention of Sylvia having attended the service for the mother and reported back on it, so what was that all about?

      Sincerely, Janet

  14. John Self said,

    Thanks for your enlightening contribution, Stephen.

    If anyone has any questions or comments for Stephen Benatar about the book, I am happy for people to post them here.

  15. Mary Cavanagh said,

    Dear John – I’m a genuine author (I’m not a crank – I can be googled!) and a good friend of Dovegrey and Random Jottings. Please could you forward this note to Stephen Benatar. Many thanks, Mary Cavanagh

    Dear Stephen
    I am a fellow author. My first novel, The Crowded Bed, was published by Transita ISBN 9781905175314 in January 2007. I have been carrying out my own onslaught of self-publicity since publication nine months ago. Although it’s been great fun it’s also been hard work. I am so impressed with your Waterstone’s pitch! I have recently joined forces with the best selling author, Caro Fraser. Caro (formerly with Penguin) has just self-published her seventh book in the wonderful Caper Court series with Matador. Consequently she too, for the first time, is doing all her own publicity. We are thus a team from two opposing areas – I am a newbie but legitimately published – she’s a best seller but self-published. We have a great deal of advice and experience to pass on and we are producing a series of articles called ‘Seriously Useful Publicity and Marketing Advice For Authors’. Currently the articles are going up on Caro’s blogsite, http://www.caro-fraser.com/blog If you scroll down to September 24th you will come to the first one – ‘The Introduction’. So far I have done ‘The Book Launch’ and ‘Writing a Press Release’. ‘Libraries’ will be put up soon. We are hoping to reach as many authors as possible as everyone these days (apart from a handful of stars) needs to be their own marketing manager

    I am writing to ask you if you would like to write a small piece on your adventures to include in the article ‘BookShops and Retail Outlets’. It would be a great honour to have your imput. I’m so looking forward to reading your book – sounds just my thing. If we can have some dialogue I can tell you a bit more about the proposed publication.

    marycavanagh@btinternet.com

    With best wishes

    Mary Cavanagh

  16. John Self said,

    Mary, I have sent your email on to the address which Stephen Benatar used when he posted his comment above.

  17. Stewart said,

    John Murphy said above:

    Should anyone wish to purchase a copy of the book from Stephen directly (inscriptions optional), please e-mail me at: murphyjf@hotmail.co.uk. We’ll endeavour to turn around any orders a.s.a.p.

    Well, I went that route and my copy arrived today. Just to allay any fears anyone may have about obtaining a copy that way. I now look forward to reading it shortly.

  18. kimbofo said,

    After reading your review and all the comments here, I’m going to have to get a copy of this book now — and just when I’d decided to curtail my book acquisitions because I have more unread than read lying about this apartment! I’ve really got to stop reading your blog, John, as you are responsible for making my wishlist treble in size recently. ;-)

  19. debra said,

    Today I found myself one of those people lucky enough to meet stephen benetar when he started speaking to me on the northern line and asked me to buy his book. I said I would look him up so I did and perhaps I will give it a read..!

  20. John Self said,

    Heheh, I didn’t realise he had begun approaching people on public transport, debra! I saw my local Waterstone’s were stocking a single copy today – better than nothing I guess.

    If anyone was at the Benatar/John Carey discussion at Waterstone’s Greenwich this evening, please post your thoughts.

  21. debra said,

    Yes, he did try to get me to go to greenwich as he was worried only one or two would turn up, but I hope he had a full house…

  22. John Murphy said,

    Due to a mix up with the booking, the event didn’t actually go ahead. I do hope nobody had a wasted journey. It’s going to be rescheduled for the New Year. I’ll provide information, as it becomes available. Merry Christmas!

  23. Sarah said,

    Yeah, definitely say when the discussion has a new date, hopefully will be able to make it. Merry Christmas Stephen & John & John (and everyone else!) x

  24. John Self said,

    And the same to you Sarah, and to John and Stephen… and all other readers of Wish Her Safe at Home and of this blog too!

  25. Sheila Redden said,

    What a delightful read. I feel fortunate to have heard about this here! While the tragedy of Rachel’s unwinding did move me, I found the good humor of her “journey” added just the right note to her characterization and made for a deliciously compelling read (though I had an inkling of her outcome from the start). I stayed up way too late last night just to finish the novel, all because of Benatar’s inventiveness!

  26. John Self said,

    Thanks for your comment Sheila. I take it you’re a fan of Brian Moore’s books too, with that name…?

  27. I just finished ‘Wish Her Safe At Home’ today and have to agree with everyone who says that it is a truly marvellous book. Originally published the year of my birth , I doubt I would have ever heard of this gem had it not been for Mr Benatar approaching my sister in Waterstones, just before Christmas, and convincing her that this book (once signed) would make the ideal present for me. I am utterly grateful to him for having saved me from yet another ghastly 3-for-2-table purchase and am certain that this novel will stay with me for a long time (and I’ll be sure to recommend it to family and friends)

    Hurrah for self-publishing and red neckerchiefs!

    Bethan

  28. John Self said,

    Great story, Bethan! Glad you liked the book. Mr B really is a one-man whirlwind isn’t he? Maybe the high street bookshops could take him on permanently, and reverse their ailing fortunes…

  29. Lynette said,

    I met Stephen by chance earlier, during an impromptu visit to Waterstone’s in Camden. He seemed a very charming man indeed!

    I hadn’t realised that the book was first published 25 years ago and it’s very admirable (in this age of the Richard and Judy book club!) that it has been self-published this time around. I think I was initially sold to the idea of buying the book when I read The Observer’s review on the back cover: ‘A remarkably odd and chilling story’.

    I look forward to reading this novel!

    Lynette :-)

  30. Stuart said,

    I’m fortunate enough to have met Stephen in the Camden Town branch of Waterstones. And I subsequently walked home with an autographed copy of ‘Wish Her Safe At Home’. I confess I’ve yet to read it (the encounter was less than a week ago), but if it’s anywhere near as charming as the author, I’m sure I’ll love it. Stephen, thanks for helping me with my coat and, if memory serves, best of luck with the discussions in NYC!

  31. John Self said,

    Thanks for visiting, Lynette and Stuart – I hope you’ll return to share your thoughts on the novel once you’ve read it.

  32. Benjamin Serna said,

    today i went to borders in holborn, and i met Stephen Benatar.. to be honest i didn´t know he was the writer.. i was looking for a book and someone came with me and asked me.. would you like to try this book and i said okey i will have a look.. i read some parts of the book and said oo its good thank you.. and the man was Stephen .. he is a very nice person i will start the book tomorrow.. if the book is like the writer i think will be so good

  33. Kirsty said,

    Excellent insights from the author and partner! These, the original post, and the flurry of comments has convinced me to purchase myself a copy.

    Who said blogs don’t sell books?

  34. John Self said,

    best of luck with the discussions in NYC!

    Stuart’s comment above resonates now, as I have just been told that Wish Her Safe at Home will be reissued in the US as an NYRB Classic in spring 2009. Regular readers of this blog will know of my weakness for that excellent series of books, so I think it will be an excellent home for Rachel. Well done Stephen (and John!).

  35. John Murphy said,

    I’ve just read out your comment to Stephen and – in my semi-wakeful state – said:
    ‘Well done John (and Stephen!)’. A reflection of the level of importance I attribute to myself in the role of Stephen’s partner-cum-PA! ‘Recovery’ is winging its way to you…

  36. Karin said,

    I live in Canberra, Australia, and a couple of months ago was browsing rather vaguely in Waterstones in London, on the second-to-last day of a (fabulous) eight week holiday. I had twelve pounds left in my pocket … and when Stephen Benatar approached me with a copy of his book, I thought “why not”?! Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, and as a forty-something woman myself, am amazed at how well the author portrayed Rachel’s thoughts. Bravo!

  37. sarah said,

    This is a message for Stephen.
    thanks for sharing your thoughts with me while we waited on the Tube platform at tghe Angel. In less than 2 minutes, we agreed that the advert we were staring at made no sense whatsoever (Was it BA? Something about not sensing a city from a coach!!!) and then moved on to discussing the world of advertising and marketing in general before you informing me of how publishers pay for window space at Waterstones and about your day of self-promotion in Waterstones.
    Well, I did write down your name once on my train and the next day wen tot my local Waterstones to try to purchase a copy of ‘Wish Her Well at Home’. Predicably, I had no luck finding any of your books on their shelves. I went home and ordered WHWAH and ‘Recovery’on line (not at Waterstone prices).
    Praise, praise for you and massive enjoyment for me. thank you so much for your writing and your 2 miutes of contact. I hope to read motre of your works. i also hope you soon get the wider distribution and recognition your work deserves.

  38. John Self said,

    Thanks Sarah – I am sure Stephen Benatar will see your message here. I will also forward a note to him letting him know it is here.

    Karin, thanks for your comment – though I am slightly concerned at the suggestion that you identified with Rachel so much!

  39. Lindsay Cook said,

    I have now met Stephen twice at the same branch of Waterstones. On the first occasion at the end of last year. Stephen approached me and I bought Wish Her Safe At Home.

    I did not read it straightaway,but when I did I could not put it down, but also wanted it to last for far longer than it did. It was such a brilliant find that I loaned it immediately to a good friend, who also enjoyed it and passed it to her husband. Not very good for book sales but great for increasing the following.

    I returned to the Holborn branch of Waterstones to try to buy another book and met Stephen again and bought The Man on the Bridge. This was back in April or May and while I wanted to read it I also wanted to save it for a time when it could have my full attention. I also enjoyed the anticipation.

    I read it this weekend and was it worth waiting for. If anything even better than Wish Her. And yet so different.

    I will be writing to Welbeck to thank Stephen and to make sure i can buy his other novels. I will then ration them out.

    I do hope he is still writing. Such a talent and yet ignored by the big publishers. It has been a delight to find that his forays into bookshops have produced such loyal fans.

    That Stephen has to do this is shameful, but at least he gets to meet the readers and learn what he brings to our lives.

    Bravo

    Lindsay

  40. John Self said,

    Thanks for your comment Lindsay – I was unaware that Stephen Benatar had released The Man on the Bridge so I will have to look out for it.

  41. Olwen said,

    I read this book a very long time ago, and it has stayed with me since. I am always on the lookout for Mr Benatar’s books. I have in my possession a crumbling, yellowed, much loved copy of “When I was otherwise”. Would absolutely recommend it to anyone!

    • Lindsay Cook said,

      I have now got four of Stephen Benatar’s books. Waterstones was able to order Recovery and Letters for A Spy. I will look out for “When I was Otherwise.”

      Keep spreading the word.

  42. John Self said,

    An interview with Stephen Benatar in the Sunday Times (though if you’re reading this after June 2010, it may well be behind a paywall).

  43. Trevor said,

    You think I’d be up with your blog, John, but for the past few weeks I’ve seen a nice copy of the NYRB Classics edtion signed by Stephen on sale at the Borders around here. I kept wondering, should I buy it. Had I read your review earlier — actually, I’m sure I’ve read it before, so — had I remembered your review here, I would certainly have purchased it before today. But the Sunday Times interview and profile convinced me I’d be missing out. And now today I see that you’ve had all of the enticing information here for years! I’m late — but hopefully not too late!

  44. Maggie Cockbain said,

    What an amazing story. I read about Steven Benatar in The Sunday Times Magazine yesterday and just had to find out more. I am definitely going to become a reader and hopefully a fan.

    It is wonderful that this man has single-handedly brought his work to the readership. No doubt the internet and word of mouth will be a stronger force on his behalf.

    It is heart warning to know this is possible. Thank you for all your toil Stephen.

  45. It’s worth mentioning that this was one of Guy Savage’s books of 2009, his writeup (which persuaded me to buy it, I’d missed this one) is here: http://swiftlytiltingplanet.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/wish-her-safe-at-home-by-stephen-benatar/

    His 2009 summing-up is here: http://swiftlytiltingplanet.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/2009-its-a-wrap/

  46. David James said,

    I read The Sunday Times Supplement yesterday and, after reading the Look Inside on Amazon knew it was the real deal, so I ordered Wish Her Safe at Home today. Self-publishing is on the up because anyone can do it, but it’s books like this that will convince readers that s-p is not simply a Vanity excercise. We were taught to be self-effacing as kids, but this won’t do any longer. You have to get known and sell yourself and trust that what you have for sale is worthwhile. As AL Carr said, Everyone should try selling something at least once in their life. I’m an s-p waller, too, though my The Confessions of Becky Sharp has been – surprisingly for me, after dozens of rejections – been accepted by Pegasus (Jan 2011). Trouble is you only take a small percentage on sales, so next time with Charles Dickens and the Night Visitors (2012, the Dickens Bicentenary) I’ll be returning to s-p and waylaying the public like our hero, St Stephen of Benatar! Can’t wait to get into Mr Benatar’s book – it’ll be a change from the wearisome chore of ploughing through the latest Booker winner – History dressed as Novel.

  47. David James said,

    Good man. The triumph of perseverence.

  48. John Self said,

    Thanks for your comments David. I must admit that I have read a number of self-published books, and they tended to support the prejudice against such titles which widely exists. Of course there are always the good ones that get thrown out with the slush – anyone can name good writers who first self-published, and I’m sure you belong in their company, David! ;-) – but the threshold of effort to self-publish now is so low that literally anyone can do it at the click of a mouse, whereas ten – or a hundred – years ago it was much more expensive and difficult and required a real investment and commitment on the part of the author.

    By the way, if you want to sound off about Wolf Hall, there’s a discussion here which you should feel free to join.

  49. Leigh Wetherall Dickson said,

    Had to offer my congratulations to Stephen Benatar on a masterpiece of understatment. I was hooked on reading ‘Wish Her Safe at Home’ from the opening page. I am an academic that specialises in madness and literature, usually in the 18th- and 19th-centuries. I had been thinking of moving forwards from here for a while and this book has decided the shape of a new module of modern literature and madness, for which I do, and a new generation of readers will, thank you.

  50. John Self said,

    Thanks for your comments Leigh. Modern literature and madness sounds like just my cup of tea. Have you read Dr Haggard’s Disease by Patrick McGrath? It’s probably my favourite book in that vein.

  51. Leigh Wetherall Dickson said,

    I haven’t so thanks for the tip, though have read McGrath’s ‘Asylum’ – fabulous! I think I am right in thinking McGrath was brought up in the grounds of an asylum, but please do correct me if I am wrong. but to return to Benatar, shall definitely seek out more of his work on strength of fabulous WHSAT!

  52. John Self said,

    “Brought up in the grounds of an asylum” sounds rather dramatic, Leigh – worthy of a 19th century novel perhaps ;-) – but yes, his father was medical superintendent at Broadmoor and sources variously describe McGrath as living “near” or “in” it. I interviewed him here for the release of his last novel, Trauma, though I didn’t ask him that question…

    Do come back and report your thoughts on Benatar’s other books. He has reissued a handful of them now, I think.

  53. Francois Langlade-Demoyen said,

    Dear Stephen,
    I have just finished Rachel’s journal and I am still very much and deeply moved. You recently signed your book to a young German girl (who is now not only a very close friend but someone I am very grateful to) who bought it at Waterstones on the King’s Road and lent it to me. Meeting with you even briefly, she felt I would love your writing and she was right indeed. I am myself a French novelist and you have to forgive my English which is nothing but poetic. I guess my music flows more easily along my French language but I was however able to really appreciate and strongly enjoy the charm and the wit of your own words. I published my first novel several years ago, “Le Manuscrit de Glyndebourne”; it was about an actress in Victorian England who was playing the role of Shakespeare’s heroines so that she could avoid living her own role, performing her own life. Always this unbearable choice between dream and reality… Mais faut-il vraiment devoir choisir ? Rachel definitely made her choice, whether she was conscious of it or not. Imagination and fantasy will always beat that too famous reality that Baudelaire used to hate so much. Well, let’s keep looking at the stars then ! Votre livre est un grand livre and I would love to say it to you de vive voix. Being one of the very few French authors living in london, I would love to meet and share your views and feelings about you creative writings. Very kind regards et avec ma vive sympathie! Francois

    • Stephen Benatar said,

      Dear Francois, this is going to sound weird but unless I’ve had the most extraordinary memory lapse I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this letter of yours before, this very charming letter – I wasn’t computer-literate in 2010 – and I really can’t bear the thought I never answered it. Please do forgive me and – to show that you do – let me have your e-mail address, so that a mere three-and- a-half years later I can attempt to put things right. I can’t begin to tell you how terribly sorry I am. Stephen.

  54. Pandora said,

    I have just met Stephen yesterday in Waterstones, I realised afterwards that I should have spoken with him for longer, but wanted to give a few tips that have helped authors I know publish and promote their work:

    Blog
    Website
    Facebook Page
    Twitter
    Giving online access to books free of charge.

    The combination of the above has increased the sales of one of the most successful authors in the world who swears by peer to peer file sharing networks, (without any help from promotion or publishers increased his sales of one book in three years from three thousand to one million because a russian fan, posted a translated copy on line).

    It was a true pleasure to meet him in the flesh, which is always more magical than on-line.

    With best wishes

  55. [...] Her Safe at Home” is a novel I’ve been wanting to read since John Self’s very positive review way back in 2007 (See the first comment of the 58 comments for the article.).  Also I’ve found [...]


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