Saturday, 27 July 2013

On My All Time Favourite Books (Part 2)

A follow up post to the one from last Saturday before I resume normal service, to include all the ones I didn't have time to do last week! I haven't nearly finished - which means there WILL be a Part 3!

So here are some more :

My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan

Reading Cry, The Beloved engendered in me a deep fascination with Africa, particularly South Africa, a country/continent I still long to visit.
Rian Malan's autobiographical piece reflects upon the difficulties faced by the white man living in the Apartheid system and the guilt within.  Rian's guilt is amplified on this issue because one of his ancestors was Daniel Malan - one of the original architects of the Apartheid system. In this book Malan confronts both history and his own conscience - the struggle to break free of the racist thoughts that have been bred into him from childhood. Very, very, moving.

Tess Of The D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I studied Thomas Hardy's poetry at A Level and this filled me with contempt for him - as a consequence, I had deliberately read none of his novels, convinced I would hate them. In a way, I only read Tess because "I had to" as I used to attend literature masterclasses for fun and this book happened to be chosen. Tess had a very profound effect on me in many ways, leaving me a total wreck at its conclusion. Aside from its plot, its general descriptive prose is utterly beautiful. It's heartbreaking though, devastating, in fact.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I remember, in my final year of university, shutting myself away in the evenings for a week just to read Middlemarch.
A great many better people than I have called Middlemarch the greatest novel ever written in the English Language, although it is not, ultimately, my favourite novel - they are not wrong, it is.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Gregory David Roberts broke free of a maximum security prison in Australia and went on the run, spending a considerable amount of time in India. He writes how when he ultimately was recaptured, prison guards repeatedly destroyed his manuscript. The persistent redrafting of this tale honed it into an absolute gem of a novel, a beauty. I say novel and not autobiography as Roberts freely admitted taking a level of literary and dramatic licence. Unputdownable.

Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie Macdonald

When Materia is 13 yrs old, she elopes with James Piper and is promptly disowned by her family. Following the birth of their first daughter Kathleen, James becomes an obsessed with her, an obsession which grows dark. Kathleen is followed by Mercedes, Frances and Lily and the story is of the four sisters, the damage inflicted upon them and the damage they inflict on each other. A relentlessly tragic, intense, novel, but one that is well worth the read.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield is, of those I've read, my favourite Dickens, though I have still by no means read them all. Another 'bildungsroman' about a young boy growing into young man and the characters he encounters along the way; I cannot understand why Great Expectations, which I think is pretty over-rated, actually, often supercedes this in the general pecking order of Dickens novels in the nation's affections. I have a friend who was unable to take to Dickens at all, because she hated the two she had read, one being Great Expectations. I insistently pressed David Copperfield on her, and she loved it!

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I've owned a signed copy of Birdsong which was a personal gift to me from Sebastian Faulks since I was 16.  The definitive Great War novel, there's also an amazingly smutty bit right at the start as our hero Stephen has an affair with his bosses wife Isabel before being conscripted into the military. I just couldn't watch the recent TV adaptation - I couldn't bear to see another person's imagining of it, because I loved the version in my head, as with Fall On Your Knees, I really need to reread this soon, it's been a long time.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres

I remember struggling to get into this : The first few opening chapters are quite random, including a chapter on Mussolini and on the daughter of a politician, neither of which are in any way relevant to the novel as a whole. When it gets going however it's a different story and so many of the different plots are wonderful and say so many important things about love not just the love between the two romantic leads, Antonio & Pelagia but also the love shown by Carlo Piero Guercio to others over the course of the novel. Like Birdsong, Cry The Beloved Country, The Poisonwood Bible and Fall On Your Knees, I read this novel as a teenager, and I'm wondering whether the novels you read at a highly impressionable age are ultimately the ones which leave the most lasting impression.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair, Thackeray's scathing attack on 19th Century high society as seen through the eyes of manipulative social climber Becky Sharpe whilst it has much social comment to make is also a thumping good read with fascinating characters.

Light A Penny Candle And The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy

OK, soooo my literary guilty secret is Maeve Binchy, one of the reasons I was so incensed when Amanda Craig had the temerity to be scathing of her when she died. I read them as a teenage girl, and no, they aren't all good but these two, particularly, are:

In Light A Penny Candle, loner Violet sends her only child Elizabeth to Ireland as an evacuee in World War 2 to her only friend Eileen O'Connor. Eileen's daughter Aisling is the same age and the two bond for life. Growing up in Ireland changes Elizabeth's life as Irish culture and Catholic customs seep into her during her most formative years. I do love this book, but then, I love Ireland!

In The Glass Lake, Eleven year old Kit becomes aware that her parents marriage is not normal and her mother suffers from depression. When one night her mother vanishes it is believed she has committed suicide in the Lake. But Kit's mother had a secret, and it's not the end of her story quite yet... Another great coming of age family saga from Binchy- and perhaps a suggestion for those of my readership who arent always "up for" heavier tomes.


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