After my dismal failure to keep up with this last year, I am going to have another stab at introducing this new feature called Desert Island Books.
The premise is fairly simple and not particularly cryptic, the title says it all. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are books that I can read over and over again without getting bored and why they would be my ideal forever companions.
To be honest, the feature is really just an excuse for me to reread some of my favourite books of all time and share them with you, but it is also an interesting exercise. Could you narrow down the twelve books that you could bear to read over and over again in perpetuity without getting sick of them? Would you take books you have been meaning to read for years and never had time to tackle (risky if you end up hating them!) Old favourites to keep you company (but would you ruin them for yourself if you had to read them forever?) A mixture of old and new? What genres? Fiction or non-fiction? Food for the mind or the heart? Uplifting? Challenging? Comforting? Scary?
There is probably a psychological profile in our choices somewhere!
I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, as a precursor, I thought I would reveal the thirteen books which made it on to the shortlist but fell at the final cut. A sneak peek of what is to come maybe.
I hope you will enjoy a little glimpse this year into some of my favourite books of all time and the kind of literature I would choose to read on a daily basis if I never got to pick up a new book again, and I’d love it if you’d like to share your own Desert Island Books with me, either in the comments here or on your own blogs with a link back.
So here are books 13 to 25 on the list of books I’d take to a desert island. The ones that didn’t quite make it on to the life raft with me, but over which I would weep as they sank beneath the waves.
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
I love du Maurier’s books, and it was a toss up between this and Rebecca, but in the end I think this is my favourite just because it is such a marvellous combination of wild adventure story, mystery and romance, and perfectly captures the isolation and cruel beauty of the north Cornish coast and moors, and it fills me with the same thrill and dread every time I read it as it did the first time. And the heroine, Mary Yelland, really has some gumption!
Rivals by Jilly Cooper
I would say Jilly Cooper’s books were my guilty pleasure except I don’t feel remotely guilty about loving her. Her novels are great fun, and written so tongue-in-cheek that you can’t be snobby about them. Rivals is my absolute favourite of her books because this is when Rupert Campbell-Black redeems himself and becomes worthy of the love of the gorgeous Taggie, plus it has a hunky Irishman in it. The ultimate beach read.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Oh, how it has broken my heart to jettison Wuthering Heights and if I could have squeezed one more book under my life vest, this would have been it. However, when it came down to balancing the twelve books I was going to be reading repeatedly forever alone on a desert island, I decided that this bleak tale of destructive love may just be too depressing to keep my spirits up, and I chose another classic love story that was not doomed to end so badly, as you will see.
The Russia House by John le Carre
The perfect spy thriller, for me. I fell in love with Barley Blair the first time I read this book, and it is a love that has endured. A reluctant and damaged man finds himself in a situation he is ill-equipped to deal with, and it has another doomed love story at its heart (I’m sensing a pattern developing!)
Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
I’m going to make a controversial statement now – I have always preferred Through The Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it is because it hasn’t been done to death in movies, but for me it has a more interesting premise (a giant game of chess), better characters (the contrasting Red and White Queens) or the really imaginative writing (the Bread-and-Butterfly and Rocking Horsefly, with attendant illustrations, appealed, and still do appeal, to my childish heart). One of my favourite childhood books that takes me back to the days when my love of reading started and will always have a place in my heart.
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
One of my favourite ever historical novels and the root of my abiding fascination with Richard III. Before Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman was my go to author for history told through fiction and this book gives a detailed glimpse into the life of Britain’s most controversial monarch from a different perspective. This was one of the first books that taught me that people can have different interpretations of historical ‘facts’ and that perspectives can be questioned. Plus the writing is vivid and beguiling.
A Room With A View by E. M. Forster
I love to read novels that take me to foreign soil and this is the ultimate in travel literature. I defy anyone to read this book and not want to book a flight to Florence immediately. And the writing is sublime. Gorgeous, but as I’ll be having an overseas adventure of my own, I have very reluctantly let it go.
A Time To Kill by John Grisham
I love a legal thriller and courtroom drama and, regardless of what you think of him personally, Grisham is the king of the genre. A Time To Kill was his first book and he would probably be horrified to know that I don’t believe he has bettered it. This book has everything, tight plotting, action and a moral dilemma to wrestle with. Is killing ever justified? Even though I have read this many times, it still keeps me on the edge of my seat.
Staying On by Paul Scott
Whilst Paul Scott is more famous for writing the Raj Quartet, including The Jewel in the Crown, it was Staying On that won him the Booker Prize in 1977 and I think it is easy to see why. The story of Tusker and Lucy, trying to hang on to their old life in India after independence as the world around them changes faster than they can keep up, will break your heart. Actually, I’m not sure I can leave this one behind after all.
I doubt this needs any explanation. The rich world that J.K. Rowling has built around Harry Potter would be the ideal thing to stave off boredom and loneliness on a desert island. I know taking all 7 may be classed as cheating so, if you twisted my arm, I would choose Goblet of Fire as my favourite.
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
There are historical novels, and then there is the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Set at the time where Homo Sapiens first starts to walk the planet, her books give a fascinating glimpse into how our ancestors came to be and became the dominant species against the backdrop of an extreme landscape. This is the first book in the series, and sets modern man in direct comparison to the species that came before. The way the story is told is a fascinating method of illustrating the history of this period and the level of detail in the books is mind-blowing. It is obvious Auel did copious research, but this is fed into the books appropriately and seamlessly. These books are a stupendous achievement.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
Another story about a hapless and unwitting stooge who is co-opted into espionage by circumstances outside of his control. However, unlike the le Carre book, Our Man in Havana has a thread of wit and humour running through it that just makes it a joy to read. The thought of James Wormold and his enlarged vacuum cleaner parts never fails to raise a smile. The fact that Greene himself worked for the intelligence services before writing this book adds a frisson of credibility to the plot and the setting of Cuba is another attraction. A perennial favourite.
The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell
Everyone is familiar with Gerald Durrell’s book, My Family and Other Animals, detailing the years of his childhood spent in Corfu with his eccentric family, but fewer are familiar with the rest of his vast body of writing. However, as a child I was obsessed with the books he wrote detailing his collecting expeditions and his life at his conservation trust and zoo in Jersey and I read them all, over and over. We never travelled abroad when I was young, and these books were my first gateway to a host of impossibly remote and alien countries in Africa and South America, and hundreds of exotic animals that I had never heard of before. These books fuelled my obsession with travelling, as Durrell’s writing is so descriptive and enticing. The Bafut Beagles, detailing his 1949 trip to Cameroon, was my favourite and, although I would like to take his whole collection to the island with me, if I had to choose one it would be this. However, there isn’t any room on the raft, so I’ll have to be my own naturalist on my desert island.
So, these are the thirteen that didn’t quite make it. Join me on 31 January for the unveiling of the first of the books that are in the top twelve.