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Remembering Nicholas Mosley and Gerald Kaufman

Remembering Nicholas Mosley and Gerald Kaufman

It’s been a sad week for the Man Booker family with the deaths of Nicholas Mosley, a shortlistee for the very first Booker Prize – as it was then called – back in 1969 with Impossible Object, and of Gerald Kaufman MP, father of the House and chairman of the Man Booker Prize judges in 1999. As well as being a distinguished novelist and biographer (including a two-volume life of his father Oswald, the British fascist leader) Mosley was also at the heart of a celebrated Man Booker spat when he returned to the prize as one of the judges in 1991. All was going well until the panel refused to put his favourite novel, Allan Massie’s The Sins of the Fathers, on the shortlist. He complained that the other novels in contention lacked ideas and promptly walked out never to return. The winner that year was Ben Okri with The Famished Road. Like Moseley, Kaufman’s integrity was never in doubt but it is often forgotten that he had a real career before politics, first as a satirical sketch-writer for That Was the Week That Was and then as a leader writer for the Daily Mirror. Under his stewardship the prize was won by J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. It is easy to say that both men will be remembered, but then both are impossible to forget.

Mosley also came up with a nice summation of how he saw the art of fiction: ‘I’ve always written novels to explain the way I saw life to myself,’ he said, ‘and I’ve always tried to write about the way people actually experience life.’

It is a tangled place, the tideline where novels and film, television and the stage meet. Just look at the announcement that Benedict Cumberbatch is to play the central character in Edward St Aubyn’s five-book series The Patrick Melrose Novels. Number four, Mother’s Milk, was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker (although some news sites are reporting that he won – he didn’t, Kiran Desai did with The Inheritance of Loss). The fact that Cumberbatch is also executive producer for the series possibly helped him bag the leading role as the dissolute playboy with parental issues. What makes this more than simply another book adaptation though is that the writer is David Nicholls, himself Man Booker longlisted in 2014 with Us. Nicholls's plan is that each episode will, apparently, take on one book in the series. Melrose, a strange, semi-autobiographical creation, might not be too big a leap for Cumberbatch whose next film role is as Dr Strange in Thor: Ragnarok.

From screen to stage, and the reclusive Elena Ferrante is treading the boards. Her teeming novels of Neapolitan life do not seem natural fare for a theatre adaptation but that is what the playwright April De Angelis has taken on. My Brilliant Friend, Parts I and II condense Ferrante’s four novels – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child – into two plays which are being staged at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. The stories centre on the friendship of two women, Lenu and Lila, played by Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack. De Angelis was a fan of the books but nevertheless, when the commission came she had to write the plays – from the 1,600 pages of the English translations – in just three months. She did so with Ferrante's blessing: ‘She said ‘Don’t be too oneiric’,’ says De Angelis (who has Sicilian roots). ‘I had to look it up. It means, ‘dream-like’, from the Greek ‘to dream’. I thought it was the most fabulous thing ever. A real Ferrante word! Now I just want to use it all the time in my daily conversation.’