BRADBURY’S DARKLY COMIC NOVEL ON ‘THE PLIGHT OF INTELLECTUALS UNDER REPRESSIVE COMMUNIST REGIMES’, FROM THE LIBRARY OF THE POLITICIAN IAN GILMOUR

BRADBURY, Malcolm Stanley. Rates of Exchange. London: Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd for Secker & Warburg, 1983.

Octavo (216 x 135mm), pp. [10 (half-title, other books by Bradbury, title, imprint, dedication, verso blank, epigraphs, ‘Author’s Note’, verso blank)], 310. Original black boards, spine lettered and ruled in gilt, dustwrapper with design by A.C.E. on upper panel and author portrait by Jerry Bauer on lower panel, not price-clipped. (Spine slightly leant, dustwrapper very lightly faded on spine and slightly creased at edges.) A very fresh copy in a very good dustwrapper. ProvenanceIan Hedworth John Little Gilmour, Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar (1926-2007, neat ownership signature on upper pastedown, pencil marking on p. 7, and brief list of page numbers, including 7, on rear free endpaper).

First edition. Rates of Exchange was the fourth novel by the distinguished writer, critic, and scholar Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000), and ‘is set in the imaginary eastern European country of Slaka, for which Bradbury invented a colourful history and geography and a language full of Slavic syllables and English puns. (He even wrote and separately published a spoof guidebook called Why Come to Slaka?) The educated Slakans speak an expressive broken English and run rings round the naïve English linguistics lecturer whose visit drives the plot. This novel, and the next one, Dr Criminale (1992), revealed Bradbury’s sympathetic fascination with the plight of intellectuals under repressive communist regimes prior to the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the various strategies they used to survive. The amusing surface comedy of cross-cultural manners in these novels covers some dark, disturbing ideas about history and politics, and the final joke is usually on the feeble representatives of liberal democracy’ (David Lodge, ‘Malcolm Bradbury’, ODNB). The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1983 but lost out to J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K. (the other shortlisted novels included Salman Rushdie’s Shame and Graham Swift’s Waterland; Bradbury himself had chaired the judges in 1981).

This copy is from the library of the politician, author, and editor Ian Gilmour. Gilmour was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford, and, after a brief period practising law, he purchased The Spectator in 1954 and edited it until 1959, before selling it in 1966. He was elected to parliament in the Conservative interest in 1966 and aligned himself throughout his career with the more liberal wing of the Conservatives; indeed, ‘[h]e was one of only two Conservatives who during the 1960s voted on the liberal side of all the great causes of the day – reform of abortion, divorce, homosexual law, and capital punishment’ (ODNB). In opposition Gilmour had served in Margaret Thatcher’s shadow cabinet and in 1979 she appointed him to the cabinet as Lord Privy Seal, but it soon became apparent that his liberal and pro-European instincts placed him firmly among the ‘wets’ and in 1981 he was dismissed from cabinet: ‘[t]hereafter Gilmour became one of the main advocates of what came to be classified as “one nation” toryism […]. His fundamental objection to Thatcherism was that it had stranded the poor, who were unable to participate in the Thatcher revolution. He was often to be found voting against his party during the 1980s, but always with grace, honesty, and good manners: he was never a plotter or conspirator’ (loc. cit.).

Gilmour left the House of Commons at the 1992 general election, moving to the House of Lords as Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar, and in his later years he concentrated on writing, publishing a number of works on politics, history, and literature (among the latter was his well-received The Making of the Poets: Byron and Shelley in their Time (London, 2002); journalism; and book reviews. 

‘He read widely and deeply. He added a modern library to his neo-Georgian house by the River Thames in Isleworth, and filled it with thousands of volumes, none of them ornamental’ (loc. cit.). This copy of Rates of Exchange from Gilmour’s library has been lightly annotated by him in pencil, but we have not been able to trace a review of the novel by him, so presumably these were his private reading notes.

£39.50

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