This may seem like last week’s news, and it is, but it has just been brought home to us how important radio of coverage can be for translated literary fiction. In the days since Michael Morpurgo and Sarah Maitland reviewed Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s slim but resonant masterpiece, The Sickness, on Radio Four 435 copies have left the warehouse. To put that in perspective, 13 left the warehouse last month.
It was a similar story when three stories from Cees Nooteboom’s The Foxes Come At Night were read on Radio Four during the summer. There was an instant boost in sales for a book that, for all the many splendid reviews it went on to receive, had not been ordered by many shops before publication.
To return to The Sickness, it is no surprise that Radio Four’s listeners rushed out or online to buy a copy as soon as the programme had finished. Morpurgo, who thought it was “a great book”, “I wanted to turn the page unbelievably fast”. “This is a page turner,” he concluded. Sarah Maitland said: “I just love it, I think its utterly gripping from beginning to end.”
The BBC’s showcasing of these books is a triumph of good taste. Both have received wonderful notices across the board, from newspapers and from online bloggers; The Sickness was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (Nooteboom has only just been submitted).
For us it’s valuable reminder of how important the BBC is in promoting literature, both in translation and otherwise, and how well it succeeds in spreading the word about unusual cultural artifacts and events. Long live Auntie, and all who sail in her!