Hope: A Tragedy - Join the debate

31 January 2012

‘A bit like Saul Bellow re-written by Jerry Seinfeld.’

I don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you the more astounding element of the plot, but I can set it up a bit. This is the story of a nobody everyman, Solomon Kugel, who chooses to leave the excitement of New York City for the dullest of rural towns. Stockton is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why, Solomon decides to move his wife and young son there. To begin again. To start anew.

A wonderful, twisted, transgressive, heartbreaking, true, and hugely funny book. It will make very many people angry. It will also make very many people very happy.

When the manuscript for Shalom Auslander’s new novel landed in the Picador office in May 2011 we didn’t know what had hit us. Shalom’s previous blackly comic books, a collection of stories called Beware of God and a fabulous memoir (fabulously titled, Foreskin’s Lament), might have in some way prepared us for the shocking originality of Hope: A Tragedy, but actually nothing really could . . . you’ll see why when you read it.

In-house reader reactions varied from humiliating bouts of giggling on the tube (“it’s a cliché isn’t it, but it’s still so embarrassing when it genuinely happens”), to glee at the controversy, debate and utter bemusement that the book would inevitably cause: “I love the idea of publishing possibly the blackest comic novel ever written!” Not that we are trying to cause trouble – Nick Blake’s carefully worded reaction nicely sums up why I, and so many of my colleagues love this book: “Very, very funny. He is in the small group of authors one can easily see becoming rather important.”

Auslander writes like some contemporary comedic Jeremiah, thundering warnings of disaster and retribution. What makes him so terrifyingly funny is that he isn’t joking.

But it isn’t quite working out that way. His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won’t stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one he bought. And when, one night, Kugel discovers history – a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history – hiding upstairs in his attic, bad quickly becomes worse.

Can the darkest events of the twentieth century and of all human history be used to show the folly of hope? And can the result be so funny that you burst out laughing again and again?' John Gray

This novel is truly and brilliantly shocking: compelling in the absurdist logic of its plot and bleakly uplifting in its belief in humanity. Needless to say, the furious chatter at Picador HQ back in May 2011 lead to us leaping at the chance to publish this book.

Booksellers who have read proofs have responded as fervently as we had hoped. We’d love you to read it and to start the buzz we are offering 6 finished copies, hot off the press: email [email protected] and you could be one of the lucky recipients of a copy of probably the most controversial novel of the year. If you aren’t lucky, do please seek it out anyway: I know you won’t be disappointed. And when you have read it, we’d love to know what you think.

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