When Sue Roebuck told me she was awarding me the Booker Award I gave her a look like this @_@
I know what Booker award winning books are like – I’ve read a lot of them – and most of them are pretty dampening on the spirits. They’ll be about a man, or a woman, who suffers and angsts in an intellectually literary way for 400 pages and nothing much happens. If something does happen it will be harrowing for the characters involved. A couple of times I have been so brain dead by the time I have reached the climax that I have turned the page and missed it.
Yes, I’m a Philistine. give me genre fiction all the way.
Anyhow, once I’d had it explained to me that THIS Booker Award isn’t an award at all but a meme to do with picking your top five best novels I felt quite chipper because my favourite novels are AWESOME. There are a lot more than five so I’ll go for the first that came to mind in no particular order of preference.
Well obviously. But not just the books that have been or are being filmed. I love the entire world, the languages, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, the Lost Tales. It’s fascinating to dig around the notes and see how the thoughts developed over the years
Yes, there are some very problematical things about the books. Yes they display the various prejudices that abounded at the time the author was writing. Yes, I deplore them. But I still think that the vision is amazing and the stories that aren’t told tug on the heart strings. How did the surviving Haradrim get home? How long did it take to resettle the Westfold? Tolkien will have known the answers to those questions and I have to admire that even if his female characters are pants.
I have this illustrated version. Alan Lee is my hero and I want to be able to paint and draw like he does with all my heart.
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett are very old now. The first – The Game of Kings – was published in 1961 and concerns the adventures of well born outlaw Francis Crawford of Lymond. I got it out of the library without any clear idea of what it was about and read it in one sitting. The prose! Dear Lord I DREAM of being able to write with half the wit and erudition of Ms Dunnett. Francis is – well – spectacular in every respect. At various times throughout the six volumes he is public enemy number one, trusted confidante of kings, diplomat, buffoon, opium eater, catamite, general, leader of mercenaries – actually I can’t think of anything he isn’t. Cross-dressing – yep, he does that too.
“To the men exposed to his rule Lymond never appeared ill: he was never tired; he was never worried, or pained, or disappointed, or passionately angry. If he rested, he did so alone; if he slept, he took good care to sleep apart.
“—I sometimes doubt if he’s human,” said Will, speaking his thought aloud. “It’s probably all done with wheels.”
And yet Lymond can also express himself like this:
“I would give you my soul in a blackberry pie; and a knife to cut it with.”
Six superb novels with time span of ten years, settings from Scotland to Constantinople and back via Russia, meticulously researched historical detail and an over-arching plot that draws to the most satisfying conclusion. And some of it is very funny. What could be better than that?
Can’t have a ‘best book’ list without something by Terry Pratchett and of all his works this one – a parody of all the ‘end of days’ movies of the 70s and 80s – is the one that I read when I’m feeling miserable or ill or have lost faith in humanity. This is a bit odd since the main protagonists of this story are the serpent of Eden and the angel from the east gate who have been sentenced to eternity on earth due to certain irregularities concerning an apple and a flaming sword. Crowley and Aziraphale have come to an arrangement that suits them both very nicely thank you and are APPALLED to hear that the world will end next Thursday. Their attempts to prevent this are aided by a modern witch, the Witchfinder General, an elderly lady of negotiable virtue specialising in discipline, the US Army and a dog called Dog. This book explains an awful lot about the world – the M25 for instance and fills me with delight.
The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, this edition deliciously illustrated by Charles Keeping.
Oh, I love this series of books, though each can be read as a standalone. The Eagle of the Ninth [and PLEASE forget the film, it's nothing like the book] begins the tale of the family who possess an emerald intaglio ring carved with a dolphin. The Lantern Bearers is the third in the series and very much more adult in tone. It’s about honour and duty and how doing what is right means different things under different circumstances. It’s about family and how the definition of that can change too. It’s about how a man can make a difference by lighting a candle in the dark.
The prose is precise and descriptive without being lush. The plots are to the point as well. Sutcliff doesn’t waste words yet when she wants to devastate the readers she manages very well. I’ve read this book to my daughter and had to stop because she was too over wrought for me to carry on. that’s powerful stuff and I love it now just as much as I did when I first read it in my teens.
The Grand Sophy is the story of a very conventional family who are thrown into disarray by the arrival of a relation – Sophie, a young lady brought up by her diplomat father, who has spent her youth racketing around the ballrooms, barracks and battlegrounds of Europe. Heyer pulls off the very difficult, to my mind, trick of making the ‘girl brought up like a boy’ trope reasonable and believable. This isn’t to say that the story itself is reasonable. It’s preposterous, silly and hugely entertaining. Another really feel good title.
Heyer’s earlier works – The Black Moth, These Old Shades – read like a list of things that historical novelists should never, never do. They are overblown, over described, rambling and melodramatic with very silly plots. I adore them and excuse her everything because she did it all first and envy her because she was good enough to get away with it.
So there’s five of my best of the best, nothing modern and nothing in my own genre. If you give any of them a go I hope you enjoy them.
I’m supposed to tag people so I’ll pass it on to Maru – she knows more people than I do. :)