A courageous reissue in the not-so-brave new world of publishing | Rachel Cooke

Kay Dick’s They is a forgotten dystopian novel from 45 years ago, but still contentious in an age of social media bullying

A parcel arrives, inside which is a copy of Kay Dick’s dystopian novel of 1977, They: A Sequence of Unease, and a letter informing me that Faber is to reissue it next month. Crikey, but isn’t this amazing? Dick, who died in 2001, is something of a minority interest at this point. She didn’t write much and what she did is either quite peculiar or quite bad, though I’ll always be fond of Ivy and Stevie, a collection of interviews with Ivy Compton-Burnett and Stevie Smith that wears its eccentricity like some crazy hat (“I realised that she had lovely legs because, quite often, she would delve under her skirt for her handkerchief, which she tucked into her knickers,” Dick writes of the former, on whom she first “called” in 1950.)

They by Kay Dick
They by Kay Dick Photograph: pr handout

But if this book’s reappearance is surprising, it’s also ironic. In They, Britain is in the grip of a mercilessly cruel group of philistines: a mob that burns books and paintings, punishing all those who resist. Faber hopes, very laudably, to bring it to a “new generation” of readers and to help it do so, its edition comes with praise from Margaret Atwood and an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado.

The wicked thought occurs to me, however, that it’s really publishing itself that most needs this book right now. As Machado notes: “Censorious impulses… and soft bigotry are hardly the exclusive property of the right.”

Dick’s novel is reborn in a world in which some imprints (not Faber, I hope) are content to excise completely writers they were delighted to publish only five minutes ago; in which social media seems more and more utterly to terrify editors; and in which, at certain moments, the Society of Authors falls oddly silent. Oh, well. The good news is that this scary little novel can now be theirs – or anyone’s – for just £8.99.

Preying on our fears

tube carriage
‘I find myself transfixed by the ads in my carriage.’ Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

Out in the world again, everything is at once the same and subtly different. On the tube, I find myself transfixed by the ads in my carriage, which now speak with one voice of the pandemic. Like a dandelion poking through a crack in a paving stone, capitalism determinedly locates our weaknesses and anxieties, the better that it might brazenly exploit them. Personalised vitamins (“we know you are weary”), a strange concoction for the turbulent gut, mindfulness delivered to your door in a little cardboard box. Be warned: the snake oil merchants are out in force.

Come to the Cabaret…

Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in Cabaret.
Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in Cabaret. Photograph: Marc Brenner

By the time you read this, I will finally have seen Rebecca Frecknall’s new production of Cabaret, starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, a night out I had to remortgage the house to afford. (Those ticket prices really do evoke the Weimar, I can tell you.) Will I be as high as a kite or suffering from the mother of all anticlimaxes? I don’t know. But either way, at least my pre-show nerves will at last be gone.

The emails from the theatre last week were enough to bring on an attack of the vapours, their anhedonic tone somewhat at odds with the fact they purport to be from the Kit Kat Club, as if the place really exists. “Action required!” they command, after which there follows a long list of instructions involving Covid tests and arrival times. We have been told to appear a full 75 minutes before curtain up, which seems completely mad, especially since I couldn’t get two seats next to one another. Will we both be allowed to go to the same bar? Or will one of us end up – I’m reading the small print now – at the place that only serves schnapps?

• Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist


Rachel Cooke

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