10 Favourite Reads
I love to read – don’t you? If that’s a resounding yes then read on…
From the sublime to the bizarre, and through romance to fantasy – take a tour through the books that have made me laugh and cry (out loud).
- 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
- Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier
- Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende
- The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
- Cheri by Colette
- Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I think that this may be my all-time favourite book so far. The story follows the path of the Buendía family – headed by patriarch José Arcadio Buendía who founds the town of Macondo (a metaphoric Colombia).
Spanning the lives of multiple generations (seven in total), Marquez subtly and completely draws us into the world of the Buendía family, its ghosts and its repetitions of history. Heart-breakingly but inevitably, the fate of Macondo is both doomed and predetermined from its very existence as myth and said history overlap.
A beautiful title, but an even more beautiful book – wonderfully plotted, intensely thoughtful, profoundly emotional, extremely comic in parts – and well written to boot. You’ll probably laugh, you’ll certainly cry, its melancholy but it soars… Why do I like it so much? I just do. I found it an exceptional read.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
A masterly novel from Czech author Milan Kundera that intertwines the concepts of love and freedom through the consequences of our public and private acts. Told in the first person, the narrator introduces his well developed, imperfect characters like intimately known friends – but ones he is not afraid to critique or criticise.
At the heart of the novel we follow a group of characters over a period of years in Prague, America, and various other settings. Tomas, the protagonist. is a surgeon living in Prague. We also meet his wife Tereza and mistress Sabina, as well as Franz – the love of Sabina’s life. While we follow the lives and loves of these characters, Kundera slowly and skilfully draws us into exploration of the philosophies of Nietsche, Descartes and Parminides.
A wonderful book which combines tragedy and hilarity – yet remains charmingly self-aware.
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
The First World War is brought to life with a haunting intensity in this best-selling Sebastian Faulks novel.
The story starts with a pair of adulterous lovers – Steven (an idealistic young British man) and Isabelle (the French wife of a textile mill owner). Their passion fades into the background as the drama of the Great War overtakes the story in the second section of the book.
The intensity of war, fatalism of some of the officers, and the tension of the trenches are superbly detailed in this second portion of the book. We get caught up in the horror of war and are physically moved by small acts of heroism in hopeless situations. I like this book so much because of this second section – which truly brings the sacrifices our ancestors made in this horrific war come alive to me.
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
I found this book both intensely funny and darkly compelling. It is a hugely entertaining romp through the bureaucratic Moscow of the early 20th century in the company of Satan (in the guise of a stage magician), Margarita and a cigarette smoking, gun wielding giant black cat called Behemoth. Of course, it is also about so much more – so don’t expect anything – just read with an open mind and prepare for some thoroughly thought-provoking entertainment.
A total marmite of a book – you’ll either love it or hate it. I come down firmly on the side of loving it! My favourite Bulgakov book (and I like most of them)…
Le Grand Meaulnes, Henri Alain-Fournier
A charming coming of age novel set in 1890’s France and told through the eyes of (title character) Meaulnes’ loyal friend Francois Seurel.
When a charismatic new addition to a small school – a certain Augustin Meaulnes – arrives everyone is enthralled by his good looks and daring. Meaulnes promptly disappears for three days and when he returns he is changed forever – in a state of half-dream and telling tales of a strange wedding party at a mysterious house where he has met a beautiful young woman (who Meaulnes determines to re-find)…
Parts of this book are very beautifully told and although other parts are perhaps over-detailed, the book retains a powerfully magical quality throughout in its portrayal of tested friendship and vanished adolescence. The only book of a young author (who tragically died during the war) – some criticise this book for the naivety of the writing, however in my belief this only adds to the beauty of the story. Well worth a read.
Eva Luna, Isabelle Allende
I love all of Isabelle Allende’s novels – but Eva Luna is possibly the one I ‘comfort read’ the most as I always quickly get caught up in the characters and plot. Allende delights us in this novel with her richly imagined characters, scenarios and locations – drawing us deeply into their world.
Eva – the title character and narrator – spends her formative years as the only child in a shadowy house (where her mother is a servant for the gentleman resident) filled with ancient furniture and strange statues of the dead (created by the gentleman resident using a special method he developed to preserve the dead – this method will come in useful later in the book). As the story develops we continue to follow Eva, and are introduced to the people who influence her life – as she goes into service for a rich family, as a Lebanese immigrant befriends her and takes her in, and as the urchin she befriends as a child grows to become a rebel and guerilla fighter… As Eva tells her story a complex South American nation emerges – from the rich to the poor, and from the simple to the sophisticated.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Steven Sherill
Contrary to popular myth, the Minotaur struck a secret deal and snuck out of the Cretan labyrinth he was imprisoned in, thereby leaving Theseus to claim the kill. He is now known simply as ‘M’ and has been keeping his (rather large and horned) head down ever since.
As the story starts we find ‘M’ living incongruously in an American trailer park and working as a grill chef in a cheap diner. Poor old M has become a creature of habit – predictable and unsurprising – he goes to work, he repairs his clothes, polishes his horns, and makes long lists of things to do. M’s fellow immortals such as Daphne, Pan and Medusa are equally diminished – Daphne works as a till girl at a truck stop, Pan is unemployed, and Medusa is locked in a cage in a freak-show.
M cuts a sympathetic figure as he goes about his daily life. He observes the people around him bustling and talking, and longs to be included – his overwhelming shyness and inarticulacy keep him on the sidelines. But when a pretty young waitress joins the diner where he works, M struggles to act upon the very human feelings she stirs in his world-weary but powerful heart.
Farcical, more than faintly ridiculous, and rather good fun.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
This epic fantasy masterpiece from Tolkien is one of the most finely realised stories I have ever had the pleasure to read. I read this first when I was about 12 years old (possibly the perfect age if you are a strong reader or can get someone to read it to you) and have remembered it fondly ever since.
The detail in the descriptions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth truly transport you into the story, and with scenes and plot-lines not present in the films, the books are the best way to do this story – if possible read the books before watching the films. After reading Tolkien’s descriptions of Balrogs and Orcs, you’ll find that the on-screen horrors just aren’t particularly scary anymore.
The Lord of the Rings has everything a good story wants – fantastical creatures, rounded and believable characters, a bit of romance, a dash of horror, and plenty of magic – both light and dark. A lot of people find it hard to get started – it’s a long proposition really – but once you do you might not be able to come up for air for a couple of weeks…
A classic Colette novel which explores the ‘love’ between a middle-aged courtesan and a very spoiled young man (the son of a courtesan) – the prose (and story) is beautifully delicate, sensuous and very French.
In the story, Cheri is sent by his mother (a wealthy Parisian courtesan) to her friend Lea (another courtesan) so that his amorous education can be started in style. After a period of some years, Cheri’s mother believes it is high time that Cheri should be married, and the ageing but still beautiful Lea cuts off her relationship with the spoiled (and yet often neglected by his mother and her friends) Cheri. Things do not go as planned however, as after Cheri’s marriage to an innocent young girl both Cheri and Lea realise that they have deep feelings for each other.
Don’t be fooled – this story is not at all sentimental about love. It entwines both romantic and maternal love (in effect exploring the different natures or faces of love), as well as an exploration of the selfishness of the idle-classes.
Don Quixote, Miguel De Cervantes
A laugh out loud funny book (although tragic and dark in parts) that concerns the many adventures of an old chap who reads books on chivalry and then adopts the life of a knight errant with his squire (Sancho Panza). Almost every page is bursting at the seams with expressive characters – from wide-eyed damsels, to fantastical monsters, or evil villains.
You need to get the right translation to appreciate the true mastery of this book – as some translations are overly ‘clonky’. Although its a long book (never fear) – the pages seem to turn themselves!