The Tortoise and The Hare


This is a post about a publishing miracle. Not the sort that starts with a million pound advance, a big name and a huge PR campaign. The other sort, the sort that involves a wonderful book. In this case, it involves a book called The Hare With Amber Eyes.

About six months ago, I asked my agent, Catherine Clarke, the usual question: "What have you read lately that's memorable?"

Without missing a beat, she started extolling the virtues of Edmund de Waal's memoir of his art-collecting Jewish family and how a priceless collection of netsuke was saved from the Nazis.

According to Catherine, Felicity Bryan (de Waal's agent) could barely unload the manuscript of The Hare (too niche, not remotely commercial). Once published (for a very small advance), it was printed in the tiny numbers typical of a book no one expected to sell.

A few weeks later, I was in my favourite local independent bookshop, Clerkenwell Tales, and there it was, prominently displayed. I bought a copy, and Peter Ho (proprietor) told me that the indie circuit had started buzzing about the book almost immediately. One bookseller read it, phoned another, and soon, that magical publishing imponderable, word of mouth, had turned a non-player into 50,000 hardback sales.


In the meantime, it's been shortlisted for the Costa prize, has appeared on numerous Best Of 2010 lists, and is currently at number 371 on Amazon USA, and 55 on Amazon UK (sorry to mix my bookshop metaphors, but Amazon ranking is always a good indicator of how well a book is selling), making the story of the book's success almost as good as the story of de Waal's hare.

I haven't read it yet, but it's coming on the plane with me to America and I haven't looked forward to a book so much in ages.

So let's give a great big Christmas cheer for publishing imponderables, for Felicity Bryan (for having the best instincts in the business), and for those surprise bestsellers that continue to make fools of us all.