Last night, we marked the launch of two of Sally Emerson’s exciting novels at 68 Dean Street, Soho.
Here is my short address to celebrate the occasion.
Ladies and gentlemen, being a great admirer of Sally Emerson, who I met in the early 1980s, I feel honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to republish six of her novels, which in my view are as exciting today as they have ever been. They possess the classical quality of books that defy the passage of time.
We are therefore here this evening to celebrate the relaunch of the first two, Fire Child and Heat. I need not stress the fact that Sally’s novels, when they were first published, received the acclaim that they truly merited.
Fire Child masterfully examines the nature of evil and what it means to be human. Its dark heroine is Tessa, who from the age of twelve, uses the power of her smile to seduce men with damaging and dramatic consequences. The novel alternates her cool and shocking dairies with those of Martin Sherman, a dangerous young man who likes to play with fire. Both are hiding, leading deliberately dull lives in North London, afraid of what they have already done – and what they are capable of – but when they meet, everything changes.
This is Lolita from the point of view of Lolita, and this Lolita has bigger ambitions.
The Sunday Times said: ‘A taut beautifully constructed story moving simply but in execrably towards its cataclysmic ending.’ Victoria Glendenning described Fire Child as ‘pulsating with love, grief and revenge.’ Susan Crosland wrote: ‘A several-layered novel about a woman who from the age of twelve seduces and destroys men. It’s a spare, subtle story of lust, love, violence, and comedy.’ The Daily Telegraph thought: ‘Sally Emerson has a talent for terror of the best kind. She understands obsession and hints chillingly at evil.’
I could go on with more reviews but I think the reader would rather I stop here, to keep the element of surprise to the bitter end.
As for Heat, our second novel – it is a gripping and exquisitely told tale about the dark side of love and the compulsive pull of the past. When Susan Stewart sees her ex-lover in a bookshop in the outskirts of Washington DC, the memories of passion and obsession return. Is Philip stalking her or are her own distorted memories turning a long hot summer into a nightmare that threatens to destroy her, her husband and her young daughter? Susan’s friends say it’s all in her mind, but as her unease spirals out of control, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems and only tragedy can clear the air.
Again, a few reviews must serve to illustrate the strength and creativity of Sally’s writing. Helen Dunmore, reviewing it for The Times, wrote: ‘In this tense, sensuous novel, Emerson leads her character away from everything safe and dependable.’ Whereas Celia Brayfield, writing for the Mail on Sunday, thought it was ‘quivering with sudden erotic tension and sparkling observation.’ Gillian Fairchild, writing in the Telegraph, was equally dramatic: ‘Permeated with eroticism and danger, a really gripping book that captures perfectly the see-sawing state of mind of its heroine and most unnervingly, the compulsive pull of a past containing unfinished business.’ Other reviews are in a similar vein and again the reader will be best served by letting him or her find for themselves the scintillating qualities of the novel.
I always believe that in addressing such a distinguished and literary gathering one has to be brief and straight to the point. The quality of Sally Emerson’s writing and her talent in weaving a good story speaks volumes about an author whose ingenuity knows no boundaries.
We must, however, remember that we are all assembled here to pay tribute to Sally and the best way to do it, and in style, is to encourage everybody here to buy as many copies of both novels as they can afford and to spread the good word to all their friends to do the same and make the author brimming with excitement and happiness. Hallelujah!