Lockdown Novels by William Challis
Mining deeply into the Bible is not the only reading we have the opportunity to get on with at this time. Isn’t this the golden opportunity to get to grips with some of those great novels you always told yourself you would read one day? The day has arrived…
You may have been put off reading novels by studying English at school; it certainly took me some time to realise that I could read novels for entertainment and then I discovered that, in the process of being entertained, we may also learn a lot about human character and experience. Not being an expert may enable you to enjoy novels more.
I tend to read classics, but not exclusively; one of the good things about classic novels is that they tend to be free on Kindle. Here are three that have really grabbed me over the years. To start with jane Austen (where else, because she is the best and this is Bath…). Emma has recently been beautifully filmed yet again, and it is a novel full of humour and brilliant portraits of people, not least Mr Woodhouse, Emma’s father, the most amusingly self-centred character in the whole of fiction. Emma is a delightfully flawed heroine; she is convinced that she understands everyone else in her town and knows what is best for them, but in the process she fails to see her own self-centredness until a disastrous picnic reveals all. But, in discovering what she is really like, she also discovers love where she had never before noticed it. Great fun and amusingly challenging.
Anthony Trollope is a favourite of mine. What I enjoy, I think, is the vast cavalcade of characters, who turn out to be all connected to each another in one way or another, rich and poor, high and low, public figures and local heroes, failures and achievers. That’s a good message to engage with at a time like this. Most people start with the Barchester Novels, the first of which is The Warden. The first of that sequence which I read, if I remember rightly, was Doctor Thorne, also recently beautifully dramatized by ITV. If you need a trip to Bath in your novel, try one of his standalone works, the underrated Miss McKenzie.
Amongst living writers, I am hugely drawn to the writings of Susan Hill, who is prolific in a whole range of styles, from detective fiction, moving autobiography, to sequels and horror – The Mist in the Mirror is the scariest book I have ever read! Some of her earliest novels are the profoundest. If you are feeling emotionally robust, try In the Springtime of the Year, which is a deeply moving story of grief and comfort, loss and renewal, death and resurrection. If you can’t find the echoes of Good Friday and Easter there, then you must have a heart of stone!
Reading novels sharpens our understanding of the world and entertains us. What novels would you recommend? I am still on Louis de Bernieres and have not yet reached War and Peace or Les Misérables, but if this goes on for a very long time, they may be necessary!