Here it is, in no particular order, my eclectic mix of Top Ten all-time favourites!
A little while ago I was asked by secret Facebook group THE Book Club to compile my Top Ten all-time favourite books. I agonised. I made lists, moved books around, in and out, up and down. I discussed with friends, family, my partner, moved things round more, then thought of even more books that simply must be included. I was nowhere near choosing ten books.
As a voracious reader my entire life, how could I possibly whittle my choice down to just ten? How could I whittle it down to a Top 100?!
Should I choose books that I used to read when I was younger – read until the pages started to flutter to the floor because, for all my care, the paperback couldn’t handle a one thousandth read – but that I hadn’t read in years?
Should I choose books that had such a huge impact on me that I hadn’t dared to read them again, scared of sullying the memory of perfection they have in my mind, and fearful too of stirring up once more the strong emotions they had unleashed in me?
Should I choose books which although not necessarily in my Top 10 all-time favourites, were written by authors whose name is blazed across my shelves because I love all of their works and know they are an author I adore and can rely on to produce something wonderful?
With so many variables, my list grew longer and longer, and I worried about it more and more. The cerebral approach wasn’t working. Time to fall back to instinct. In a rush, I pulled together ten novels I adore for many different reasons. And I didn’t let myself change my mind.
Ask me again tomorrow, and the answer would be different, and the day after that and the day after that… But today, here it is, in no particular order, my eclectic and not-even-remotely-definitive Top Ten all-time favourites!
Engleby, Sebastian Faulks
The strange tale of a strange man who is out of step with the world. A spine-tinglingly great read, and truly brilliant characterisation. This book definitely influenced my own writing.
After You’d Gone, Maggie O’Farrell
Thanks to this book, I went to work a very tired person after getting just three hours’ sleep. I hadn’t been able to put it down until I finished – and hadn’t been able to stop crying either.
This is a fabulous example of the power of a simple story well told, with emotion so realistic that it is painfully raw to read. The power is also in the faultless construction of the novel; the way tiny pieces of Alice Raikes’s life drift across her consciousness as she lies in a coma, and we as readers have to put it in order, to discover what has happened to her.
The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge
I spent most of my formative years with my nose stuck in a book. It is thanks to all those fabulous authors (J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, J.R.R. Tolkein, Enid Blyton, and so many more) that I fell in love with words – and look how that ended up! The Little White Horse features an incredibly vain dog called Wiggins, and Elizabeth Goudge’s description of him was so wonderful that to this day I can remember discovering it for the first time – and loving it so much that I couldn’t resist reading it aloud to my mum. When I am in need of a ‘comfort book’ because I am ill, this is one of the books I turn to.
The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
It was tough whittling down Patricia Highsmith’s books to just one favourite, but I finally did it. Tom Ripley is a psychopath you can’t help rooting for, somehow. A wonderful character.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
If ever there were a masterclass in ‘less is more’ this Holocaust novel is it. A wonderful, heart-wrenching tale of friendship in the most horrific of circumstances, John Boyne manages to convey the worst of humanity without ever resorting to graphic description. Once read, it will live with you forever.
Meadowland, John Lewis-Stempel
Tell people you adore a non-fiction book about an English field, and they will probably think you’re insane. But, trust me… Some writing is so beautiful that I am gripped with an urge to read sections out loud, just so that I can hear the jewel-like words as well as see them, somehow maximizing the pleasure and sharing the joy with others. This is one such book, as you get to know the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren, the skylark brood and the curlew pair, and fall in love with the rustling grasses and winter-rattling leaves. A joy to read!
Great Expectation, Charles Dickens
I spent the greater part of two years avoiding reading this classic for my GCSEs. I only caved in just before my exams – and realised what all the fuss was about. Crime, love and obsession – plus an old dear in a rotting bridal gown. Who could ask for more? Not me, as I’ve literally lost count of the amount of times I’ve read it.
Of Bees and Mist, Erick Setiawan
An adult fairytale full of metaphors for anger, bitterness and a marriage falling apart, I fell in love with Of Bees and Mist from the very first chapter because it was unique. When Meridia flees from a house haunted by sad-eyed ghosts, her mother’s resentments and swirling clouds of mist, she hopes to escape to a simpler future with the man she loves. But her new husband’s home – plagued by swarms of angry bees – is just as bewitched, and has its own history of thwarted passions, feuds and betrayal. Brilliant!
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
Madam Bovary was banned, such was its scandalous impact on publication. I like to think that wasn’t simply because it was about a bored wife having an affair, but because of the rich vein of dark humour running through it, which makes me chuckle deliciously. Although written in 1856, Emma Bovary’s character still rings true today. And if she were around today, she would hoover up real life television and want her fifteen minutes of fame. She’d probably want to star in Made In Chelsea. Truly a novel before its time.
Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
Oh, poor, mousey second Mrs De Winter. How clever to create a novel all about everyone’s obsession with Rebecca – and never name the narrator. Perfection.