Friday, 20 February 2009

Who Walk In Darkness!

I first read "Who Walk In Darkness" when I was 19 or 20, working as a security guard. For a few weeks I was assigned to work in an apartment complex for retirees, and there I found a tattered paperback copy of the novel - on a small shelf of books in a commonroom, a sort of tiny library for the residents of the building.

Over the next week or so, I devoured the book on my dinner breaks. I loved the writing so much (and this copy was so beat up anyways) that I considered stealing it. In the end I decided against such action, and left "Who Walk In Darkness" where it was.

Years later, I found another copy and that is the edition you see above. The original copy I read 'on the job' had the greenish cover with a couple walking, seen below.

A trawl of the internet suggests, remarkably enough, that "Who Walk In Darkness" is now relatively unknown. First published in 1952, this was Chandler Brossard's debut novel, and was set in the Greenwich Village of the late 1940s - a bohemian scene in which apparently straight-laced young people "smoke tea" (pot), listen to jazz, slack off in general, and have intense conversations.

The story behind the novel is an interesting one, and told in some detail here. In a nutshell, Brossard based some characters in the book on people he knew in the scene (notably Anatole Broyard), and this caused no small amount of trouble; in fact, legal considerations led to the novel published in France being considerably different than the one published in North America (hence the note on the cover regarding the 'suppressed version').

Whether you see it as the first beat novel, the first hip novel (or new wave novel), or even the American existential novel, "Who Walk In Darkness" is well worth seeking out. It was reissued in 2000, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a copy.

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