In 2003 I wrote a novel called Blonde on a Stick. The climax to that book occurs on the roof of the train shed at St Pancras, accessed via the desiccated rooms and corridors of the rotting Midland Grand Hotel. A chase scene beforehand had taken in the construction work occurring around what is now the gleaming Eurostar hub.
You could take a tour of the hotel back then, and this I did, soaking up the atmosphere of a magnificent building gone to seed; a sleeping giant. Every room was a riot of peeling paint and mildew, with dusty corpses of spiders and flies wadded in the corners. It was a building teeming with ghosts, a glorious setting for a story. My novel was not published until 2011, and in the intervening years the old Midland was refurbished on a spectacular scale and is now the St Pancras Renaissance. I worried for a long time over that facelift, and whether I should shift the end of my novel to a new locale in order to rescue the book from being dated, but surely such a fate is inevitable for all novels rooted in real towns and cities. Possibly this architectural dating isn’t as deleterious to a book’s fortunes than, say, the jargon of a specific period, Daddio, or references to how much certain things cost (you could buy a pint for thre’pence ha’penny and still have change left over for a powdered egg supper and a lift home on t’Hansom cab). My fear of including anything that might date the piece of fiction I’m working on is less to do with anchoring my characters in a specific era, and more to do with jolting the reader from the story. An early short of mine (my first published piece, actually) – Dirty Water – sold in 1987 to a small press publication called Dark Dreams, contains a reference to the British Gas privatisation adverts. Anybody remember Sid?
What do you think? Are there any books out there that failed to age well?