Tanith Lee: An Appreciation

 

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Tanith Lee on Sunday.  My contact with Tanith herself was limited to several phone conversations and an exchange of editorial letters and e-mails, since I reprinted three of her novels and published one original. Sadly, we never met in person.  But nevertheless, she was an author central to my existence, for her lush, sensuous, luminous novels formed the very fabric of my adolescence.

I first discovered her with The Silver Metal Lover—a book that not only remains my favorite of Tanith’s novels, but also my favorite book ever. I have lost track of the number of times I have dived back into its pages over the years and been once again caught up in its spell. Getting a chance to republish it in 1990—and then to publish the sequel, Metallic Love, in 2005 (which Tanith graciously dedicated to me)—remain some of the proudest moments of my career.

But, much as I adore it, The Silver Metal Lover is only a part of my obsession with Tanith Lee’s fiction.  Looking through the long list of her published works, many titles spark in my mind with jewel-like intensity: Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine (which I republished as an omnibus entitled Biting the Sun in 1999); Night’s Master and the rest of the Flat Earth series; The Electric Forest; Sabella; Day by Night; Lycanthia; Cyrion—to name but a few.  Each conjures feelings and memories that will be with me always.

Below, I am appending an introduction that I wrote to the Australian edition of The Silver Metal Lover, which published in 2001.  Six months after I wrote it, I met the man who would become my husband.  We married in 2004, and had a daughter in 2008. With every life change (marriage, my daughter’s birth, her graduation to a big girl bed), I have reluctantly had to shed books to make room in my small New York apartment.  I have gotten rid of probably 5,000 books over the years. But Tanith’s novels (which take up almost a full shelf of valuable book real estate!) are ones I will never abandon.  And I am looking forward to the day when I can at last introduce my daughter to one of my favorite authors.

Rest in peace, Tanith Lee—and eternal thanks for the words.

Anne Lesley Groell
Executive Editor, Penguin Random House
New York City
May 27th, 2015

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04/11/2001

Twenty years ago, when I was fifteen, a friend of mine handed me a book that changed my life.  That book is the one you are holding now: Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover.  I was, like a fair number of teenage girls, your classic late bloomer.  And when I read Jane’s words—“I’m not very good at being alive.  Sometimes I despair of ever getting it right.  When I’m old, perhaps, when I’m thirty”—I knew I had found a kindred soul.  Because this is a coming-of-age story with a twist, a tale of one young girl’s realization that it is infinitely more important to determine who you are and to be that thing than to willingly fill the molds friends and family and society have cast for you.  It is a book that shows us—viscerally—that it is not only okay to be ourselves, but that it is, in fact, the only way of being.

I devoured the book not only on that occasion, but on many subsequent occasions.  It got to the point where I was reading it about once a month throughout a rather tricky adolescence.  I used to joke that this book saved my sanity, but I suspect it was no less than the truth.  There is something intensely powerful—and intensely liberating—about Jane’s story, because the root of that story is something we all share: the quest for self-knowledge and self-discovery.  That Jane is aided in her quest by the incredibly wise and yet naive, gentle and yet dashing Silver is only an added bonus for us die-hard romantics.

This is a beautiful book, written by a mistress of language and a true lyric poet.  It is funny and tragic, wise and intensely poignant.  I laughed with it; I cried.  Like life, it is seldom fair, but offers in the end—and always—hope.  It is a book I cannot imagine a generation, particularly of young women, growing up without.  So when I discovered it was out of print, I knew that something had to be done.  And, fortunately, I stood in the position to do it.  As an editor at Bantam Books in the U.S., I could acquire books for publication, so I picked up the reprint rights—delighted to discover that the book had withstood the test of time.  It was every bit as wonderful and moving to read at thirty as it had been at fifteen.

When I acquired the reprint rights to this title, I had the opportunity of talking with Tanith, and was able to tell her how much this book had meant to me.  She told me, remarkably, that she had been wanting to write a sequel to this novel for a long time.  A few months ago, she wrote to tell me that the book had really gelled in her mind, that she wanted to use my story—that of a young girl discovering Jane’s book—as a frame for the new novel.  Spurred on by needing the perfect ending to this introduction, I am delighted to report that as of this morning, I have acquired the rights to that sequel.

So, like Jane and Silver’s story, the tale of my relationship with this book has come full circle.  And we are left with the possibility of something new, certainly different, and hopefully even better.

Going back briefly to Jane’s words, I am now well past thirty.  Like Jane, I have come to accept who I am and am all the happier for it.  There are days I still don’t know if I’ve mastered it, or gotten it right, but I do know one thing.  By helping to bring this book to a wider audience, both with this publication and the one in the U.S.—by giving others the opportunity to be as touched by it as I was—I do know that I have gotten at least one thing right.

Anne Lesley Groell
Senior Editor, Bantam Dell Book Group
New York City