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.


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. It fuses 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,[3] 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.)[3]

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)[6] are drawn with “a narrative wisdom surely unknown to most authors in their thirties” – Il Sottoscrito (Italy).[7] 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)[7]

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,[8] 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)[9] In his “beautifully turned, classical style” ('New York Times Book Review)[10] 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.


With the royalties of "The Drowning People", Mason established the Kay Mason Foundation ( 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.[11]

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.” (


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 International Dublin Literary Award.[12]

Mason's work for disadvantaged South Africans was honoured by an Inyathelo Award for Merit in Philanthropy in 2010.[13]

Publishing Business[edit]

In 2010, Mason cofounded Orson & Co, a publishing house dedicated to multimedia eBooks[14]. Their edition of Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker brought together a number of musicians and actors including Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, tenor Alex Richardson, and pianist Spencer Meyer[15]. Orson & Co suspended it's eBook publishing efforts in 2019[16].


  • The Drowning People (1999)
  • Us (2005)
  • The Lighted Rooms (2008). Published in the United States as Natural Elements.
  • History of a Pleasure Seeker (2011)
  • Who Killed Piet Barol? (2016)


  1. ^ Ciabattari, Jane (15 February 2012). "Richard Mason on New Novel History of a Pleasure Seeker". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Richard Mason (16 November 2008). The Drowning People. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0-446-54888-5.
  3. ^ a b c "The Devil in my genes: How success brought author Richard Mason to the edge of madness". Mail Online. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  4. ^ Le Figaro
  5. ^ "Life's Peachey for marauding Vikings". The Independent. 27 December 2005. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Natural Elements". The New Yorker. 4 May 2009. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ "History of a Pleasure Seeker". Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Williams, John (9 March 2012). "New Fiction by Richard Mason, Anna Funder and Others". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  11. ^
  12. ^ History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason |
  13. ^
  14. ^ Owen, Laura (15 November 2012). "Orson & Co.'s "eLumes" are "the opposite of an ebook"". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  15. ^ "Home | Orson". Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  16. ^ "Orson & Company". Retrieved 8 January 2020.