2008 UK cover

Jonathan Coe writes:

“I started writing this novel in September 1984 and finished it in the early summer of 1985. At the time I was a postgraduate student at Warwick University, writing a thesis on the use of intrusive narration in Fielding's novels. No doubt this partly explains why the novel has such an intrusive narrator, but there were two more important influences on the book: B S Johnson's Christie Malry's Own Double Entry (which I had only just discovered), and the early novels of Samuel Beckett. Calling my heroine ‘Maria’ was meant to be a delibrate hommage to Beckett's ‘M’ characters – Murphy, Molloy, Malone. In fact the novel was originally entitled Maria, but my then editor at Duckworth, Colin Haycraft, disliked this title, saying that it was uncommercial. When I came up with The Accidental Woman instead, he liked it because he thought I was deliberately pastiching Iris Murdoch's An Accidental Man – a novel which I'd never read. (And still haven't.)

While on the subject of Duckworth and Colin Haycraft, I must mention his wife, Anna, who was entirely responsible for getting me published in the first place. One of my closest friends at Warwick, Rebecca Kidd, had been reading Anna's novels, which were published under the pseudonym Alice Thomas Ellis. They were extremely popular at the time, although most of them have now gone sadly out of print since Anna's death in 2005. Rebecca saw some affinities between Anna's novels and The Accidental Woman, and suggested that I send the manuscript directly to her. (Besides writing her own books, Anna was also the fiction editor for Duckworth.) I took her advice and, to my amazement, Anna not only read the manuscript herself, but liked it enough to recommend it to her husband, who agreed to publish it. It had already been rejected by about fifteen publishers and agents, by then, so I had begun to despair that it would ever be published at all. I remember getting Colin Haycraft's phone call one evening at my flat in Coventry, and literally jumping for joy when I heard that he was going to take the book on.

Aside from changing the title, and the deletion (at Anna's insistence) of two or three pages of scatalogical humour about farting, The Accidental Woman was published exactly as I delivered it. It sold a grand total of 273 copies in hardback, and was not published in paperback until two years later.

The first review the book received, in the TLS, was written by Nigella Lawson.

I made some small revisions to the text for the 2000 Penguin edition.”

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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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