HRF Keating’s Undiscovered Novel
Sheila Mitchell, on behalf of the HRF Keating Estate, tell us about his newly discovered novel and the estate’s pleasure with Endeavour Ink’s plans to publish the novel for the first time.
Endeavour will always be associated with intrepid Arctic exploration and maverick Oxford cops but now the publishing house of that name is also making history. It is, with great courage, embarked on flying in the face of modern trends. Having conquered the digital world with their eBook list they are daring to revitalize the print world. With a list of established names to launch this ’endeavour’ they are giving authors new hope.
HRF Keating, through his estate, is proud to be included with his posthumous title ‘A Kind of Light’. Harry is, of course, best known as a mystery writer but he also wrote literary novels of which this is one. However the finding of this posthumous manuscript presents us with its own mystery. Why would any established author write a major novel, toil through a second draft and continue, from time to time, to work on it over the next few years and then tuck it away in the study cupboard not to be found until some twenty-odd years later, after his death?
The discovered manuscript had been typed on an electronic typewriter and was covered in penciled corrections. It fell to Harry’s younger grandson, Jacob, who had touch-typing skills, to put it into a state for Simon to edit on his computer. As a final family involvement Phoebe, an artist and one of the grand-daughters, provided the logos that separate the sections.
The starting point for all Harry’s fiction, whether it was a crime book or a literary novel, was always some philosophical precept. In ‘A Kind of Light’ which comes in the mainstream category, it was rules and lawlessness which meant that below the surface of the ongoing narrative he examined such opposites as savagery, wildness and disorder versus civilization; free love and
copulation versus marriage; innocence versus corruption; atheism versus belief and divinity; literature versus reality. But these elements are only there to engage with if you want to, as usual in a Keating novel the story must always be in the major concern, the readers’ attention must be held, they must be kept entertained from beginning to end.
The book is a homage to Joseph Conrad, whom he revered. The title is itself a quotation from that author’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. ‘A Kind of Light’ has two interwoven stories, one Victorian and the other set in the 1980s when the book was written and both take place in the African Congo. The Victorian sections are partly told through excerpts from the diaries kept by Thomasina le Mesurier, clergyman’s daughter, gentlewoman and unlikely adventurer, but also as the direct narrative of what she endured trekking, with her small band of African bearers, through the primeval forest. Paralleled with her story is that of a young couple, Theresa Olivia Mountjoy known as Tom, a successful TV presenter, and Irishman David Teigh, part film director, part dilettante. Tom and David task themselves with making a documentary film of Thomasina’s journey, hoping, in the end, to locate the remainder of her diaries. With Thomasina, we become immersed in the magic and majesty of the all-enveloping forest and her deepening involvement with the African villagers she encounters, and then, a hundred years later, we follow the lives of the modern characters as they struggle not only with the terrain but with their own personal problems
Throughout, as is usual with Harry’s writing, we meet a host of vividly drawn characters ranging from an old African with second sight to an arid missionary priest; from a larger-than-life charmer of a sea captain to a manic major rejoicing in the name of Yompton Smith.
Now, thanks to Endeavour, and as Harry would have wished, it will be available in print and as an eBook. He was a reluctant new technology man and although he would, I am sure, in the end have acknowledged the usefulness of the added markets and was already an endorser of spoken word editions, the ‘real’ book was his passion.
We wholeheartedly wish Endeavour the success it deserves with Endeavour Ink.