Novelists who achieve a cult status write, by definition, for a narrow and usually specialist readership, and while their books are not for everyone, they attract certain passionate partisans. One cult figure, the English novelist, journalist, and television writer Simon Raven (1927–2001), did not reach a mass audience or even attain a very broad readership among the upper middle class and the intelligentsia; but then, he never exerted himself very far to do so. “I’ve always written for a small audience consisting of people like myself,” he remarked, “who are well-educated, worldly, skeptical and snobbish (meaning that they rank good taste over bad). And who believe that nothing and nobody is special.”

“People like myself”: there are few of them left, for Raven was one of a breed that was dying in his youth and is now all but extinct. Not that we ...