Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Greatest Novels of all Time.

Yesterday I was reading a list created by literary critics, which contained the names of what they considered to be the 100 greatest novels of all time. I had only read 31 of the books and I had not even heard of many of the titles.

So, just as a record of my own judgement about the greatest top five novels that I have read, I decided to compile my own list.

1. Shogun: by James Clavell. (1975)
This novel, which is set in Japan in 1600, appealed to me in many ways. It loosely follows actual events in history, when a shipwrecked English mariner became of use as an adviser to a powerful Shogun. It manages to capture just how much Japan was out of step with much of the world, due to its isolation policies. The intrigues, struggles and undercover romance are masterfully handled. To date I have read the book four times; and will try to read it again sometime.
I met the author once in the "Bottoms Up" club in Kowloon, but cannot quite claim a significant acquaintanceship. 

2. Cotillion: by Georgette Heyer. (1953)
Such a fuss has been made of the novels written by Jane Austen, but for pure delight, humour and escapism, the Regency novels by Georgette Heyer are hard to beat.
Cotillion is my particular favourite and I have read it three times. It contains a varied and zestful set of characters and the portrayal of them and their witty dialogues, makes you fly through the book much faster than you intend. You are loath to leave it and them as the end arrives.
My Mother was a fan of Georgette Heyer and introduced me to her novels when I was in my teens. I have enjoyed them ever since. Reading them will always give you a lift of spirits. 
My brother the Professor, did not read any of these books until he was in hospital in his late fifties. He thoroughly enjoyed them and corroborated the tonic effect.

3. Bambi: by Felix Saltern. (1928)
Many people have watched and loved Walt Disney's cartoon film Bambi, but few have ever read the book from which it was derived.
At primary school, I was slow to learn to read and lazy to attempt longer pieces. This book changed all that. I was entranced by the story and the sense of a human view of life within a forest, encompassing happiness and sadness; and life as it is delivered.
The chapter that remains most clearly in my memory,  dealt with the conversation between two leaves on a tree at the end of Autumn. By the end of the dialogue, Winter had come and their lives were over.
My own copy of this book was eaten by book worms in  Singapore. Years later l searched for a second hand copy on Abebooks and read it to my young son. I'm not sure who enjoyed it more.

4. Loss of Eden: by John Masters (1979 - 1981)
A bit of duplicity here, as this is actually a trilogy about the first world war, but the story is continuous throughout and involves descriptions of how British families adapted and dealt with the extreme changes that they met with. These powerful books go a long way towards capturing a close understanding of the social, physical and mental costs of war. I am surprised that they are not required reading in history lessons. Reading them left me with a profound respect for the generation which had to participate in and experience the devastating effects of the war. Above all, the story powerfully portrays the human tales which interlock to make an epic and spell binding tale.
The book tiles were: -
Now God be thanked (1979)
Heart of war (1980)
By the green of spring (1981)

5. Master and Commander: by Patrick O'Brian (1969)
As an ex-mariner, I have loved the Aubrey-Maturin series of 21 books, of which the above mentioned is the first.  They are set on board British naval vessels during the Napoleonic War. The breadth and accuracy of nautical knowledge from that era that is displayed by the author, is astounding. He is justly famous for the time he spent in historical research. These books are also notable for the depth in which the characters are portrayed and developed. The result is a splendid historical and personal saga, which grabs the imagination and holds it throughout the whole series. 
When I was about to read the first book, a friend remarked that I was lucky, as I still had the pleasure to come from reading all the other 20 books. He was right.


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