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The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides:Dead Letters

Author: Gary Lachman

The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides is by my bed and being read with great pleasure - another one of your brilliant compilations!

Colin Wilson

Arts Council funding for the independent literary publisher Dedalus has been withdrawn-a shame, as it is committed to books of quality that will not easily find a publisher elsewhere. Dead Letters is an original and lively analysis of literary life (and death) that too often is sensationalised elsewhere, without proper context. The A-list of suicides includes: Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Arthur Koestler, Yukio Mishima and others, creatively categorised as existential, romantic, surreal and manic-depressive.

Iain Finlayson in The Times

Yukio Mishima predicted his suicide in a short story and seems to have been genuinely in love with death. The Polish dramatist, novelist and artist Witkacy died of a twice-broken heart. Jan Potocki was haunted by the thought that he was a werewolf; Otto Weininger by his doppelgänger. Though many of the writers mentioned had, as we would now say, substance abuse issues, Anne Sexton was unusual in having been driven to her quietus directly by drink.

Then again, "direct" is a problematic term in this context. You will seek in vain for a through line to Gary Lachman's book. Some of the writers in it were obsessed by their own mortality, some fascinated by it, some completely caught on the hop by it. This saddest of stories has no clear trajectory.

Yes, it is "something of a cheat" to count Mary Wollstonecraft as a suicide – mainly because she wasn't one. But the odd lapse, both in judgement and, occasionally, in grammar, does not detract from a desperately moving and oddly inspiring collection.

Murrough O'Brien in The Independent on Sunday

Dedalus publishing lost its entire grant in the recent Arts Council cuts: founder Eric Lane, who is also threatening to sue the council, is brooding over how to launch his latest publication - Gary Lachman's Book of Literary Suicides. "We will create a new category of literary suicide: Martyr to the Arts Council," he promises.

Maev Kennedy in The Guardian

there is a serious, exhaustively researched and yes oddly fascinating examination of suicide both as the subject of fiction and in relation to the creative process.

Bridget Gallon in The Hampstead & Highgate Express

In a nutshell, it’s a taut, pithily informative overview of any writer of note who’ve ever chosen to exit this unappreciative world at their own hands. Typically for Dedalus, the cover’s gorgeous.

Sasha Selavie in QX International

Lachman's goal to write a book
'on writers who had killed themselves or had tried to, or had written about suicide at some length or depth' would be immense. To qualify, the author requires the suicide to be in some way 'interesting'. Thus we have the philosopher Philipp Mainlander, who killed himself because of the second law of thermodynamics; Zeno, who purportedly hanged himself after stubbing his toe on a turtle; and Yukio Mishima's sensational and bloody hara-kiri performance
Suicides are arranged by type: Existential suicides brought on by metaphysical issues, emotionally rich Romantic suicides; political suicides; manic-depressive mortal coil shuffling a la Sylvia Plath; and the bizarre and often nonchalant suicides of many Surrealists.
Lachman focuses on little known or forgotten characters such as Polish avant garde figure Witkacy; Thomas Chatterton, 'the original tragic Romantic genius'; narcissistic publisher Harry Crosby; and the tormented Austrian poet Georg Trakl.
The second part of Dead Letters is a selection of writings about suicide whose real value lies in Lachman's research and his knack of smoothly relating obscure biographical tidbits and philosophical ideas.
This work on a grim subject never becomes overly morbid and Lachman remains respectful of his troubled subjects. Suicide is not recommended, but this volume surely is. Splendid summary of self destruction.

Mike Pursley in Fortean Times

Dead Letters ultimately proves to be at once stimulating and thought-provoking and the section devoted to various suicidal writings is most diverting.

Peter Burton in One80 Reviews

RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 321

Publication date: 20.03.2008

ISBN numbers:
978 1 903517 66 6
978 1 909232 46 4