Richard Mason (novelist born 1977)

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Richard Mason (born 1978) is a South African-British novelist and philanthropist.

Early life[edit]

Richard Mason was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 4 January 1978. His parents were anti-Apartheid activists and brought Mason to the United Kingdom when he was 10 years old.

Career[edit]

Richard Mason first came to prominence at the age of 21, when the London Times dubbed him "king of the hot young writers".[1] He had just published his first novel, "The Drowning People", an “exceptional achievement” (Guardian)[2] that became "one of the most talked about first novels of 1999" (Daily Telegraph). As The Telegraph put it, "If you want to be au courant with modern fiction, you will need to read it."[2]

"The Drowning People" sold more than a million copies in over 20 countries, was translated into 22 languages and won Italy's Grinzane Cavour Prize for Best First Novel.[2] Not every critic approved. One said Mason should have killed himself rather than write it.[3] Many column inches were expended discussing the size of Mason’s advance, and what contribution his Hugh Grant-ish looks had made to his success.

Mason’s second novel, "Us" (2005), was “an explosive mixture of cocky irony and elegy “[4] and took five years to write. Fusing the narratives of two men and a woman, each remembering their time at Oxford and the parts they played in the death of a dear friend, the critics’ response was ecstatic. As Rebecca Pearson put it in the Independent on Sunday: “Only two books in my life have made me cry… [One of them] is Us, Richard Mason's devastatingly tragic, funny and utterly gripping novel."[5]

The pain of “growing up creatively in public”, as Mason described it in a moving piece of memoir for The Mail on Sunday,[6] took its toll on his psychological health and triggered his inherited bipolar disorder, leading to a major breakdown in his twenties. According to Mason, a great psychiatrist, humility, the love of his family and partner, and scrupulous adherence to his medication regime got him through, and so did the writing of perhaps his most complex novel, "The Lighted Rooms" (called "Natural Elements" in the United States, where it was published by Knopf.)[7]

In "The Lighted Rooms" (2008), Mason takes the audacious step of putting an eighty year old woman in the grip of dementia at the center of the drama. What no one knows is that Joan McAllister is having the time of her life, as dementia’s hallucinations allow her to revisit her past and the vitality of her youth. Ranging from British nursing homes to South African concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War, and taking in the stock market bubble and the tensions of a relationship between a mother and her daughter, the characters in this “immensely readable magnum opus” (The New Yorker)[8] are drawn with “a narrative wisdom surely unknown to most authors in their thirties” – Il Sottoscrito (Italy).[9] As a leading Dutch newspaper put it: “Richard Mason is a hugely talented writer. When you read his book, you automatically think of authors like Thomas Mann and John Updike. This is a classic novel, written by a future literary master.” (Rob Schouten, Trouw)[10]

Psychological accuracy is a hallmark of Mason’s fiction, and his fourth novel, "History of a Pleasure Seeker" (2011), is a treasure trove of insight and humour. An Oprah Pick of the Month,[11] the story of a dashing young man’s adventures through the gilded age is “is the best new work of fiction to cross my desk in many moons.” (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)[12] In his “beautifully turned, classical style” (New York Times Book Review)[13] Mason takes the lid off a privileged family and shows how sex, while not necessarily the same thing as love, can be a potent force for good.

Philanthropy[edit]

With the royalties of "The Drowning People", Mason established the Kay Mason Foundation (www.kmf.org.za). Under the patronage of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the foundation works to identify promising teenagers and give them the education and experience they need to lead South Africa in the post-Apartheid era.[14]

In 2010, Mason became a co-founder of Project Lulutho, in collaboration with the community of Mthwaku in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape. Mason spent a year under canvas helping with the construction and was a major funder of this center of conservation and green business skills, playing a key role in bringing together the stakeholders from civil society and government necessary to turn a ravaged ecosystem into “a place of hope.” (www.lulutho.org)

Prizes[edit]

Mason’s first novel, The Drowning People, won the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Best First Novel.

The Lighted Rooms and History of a Pleasure Seeker were long-listed for the Sunday Times Award and The Lighted Rooms was longlisted for the IMPAC award.[15]

Mason's work for disadvantaged South Africans was honoured by an Inyathelo Award for Merit in Philanthropy in 2010.[16]

Business[edit]

In 2010, Mason became a co-founder of what historian and Booker Prize judge Amanda Foreman calls “the most exciting venture in publishing today”: Orson & Co, a publishing house dedicated to making sensual, multimedia story experiences called eLumes. The eLume edition of History of a Pleasure Seeker put Orson “at the forefront of a new medium” (Alexandra Woolf in Departures Magazine)[17] and brought together a host of musicians and actors including Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, who reads the text aloud at the touch of a button, tenor Alex Richardson and pianist Spencer Meyer.[18]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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