By chance the book world's agitation over The Autograph Man coincided with the death of a friend of mine. William Cooper (the pseudonym of Harry Summerfield Hoff) died on 5 September at the advanced age of ninety-two. While his name may not mean very much to the crowd of young people lining up to offer hasty assessments of Zadie Smith's second novel, he was rather a dog in his day. Postwar English Literature would have taken a very different course without the influence of Scenes From Provincial Life (1950), and for forty years afterwards Cooper remained a lively, opinionated and occasionally irascible presence on its inner margin.
Cooper's final novel, Scenes From Death and Life, appeared in 1999 shortly after his eighty-ninth birthday. Inevitably it was published not by the brightly plumaged commercial concerns that had made money out of him in his prime but by a tiny independent; the reviews were correspondingly sparse. Dying three years