Sunday morning and raining outside. You are curled up by the fire with a cup of tea beside you and all that is missing is the perfect book so you ask yourself which books of all times are the greatest. Sitting by the fire you are too relaxed to tax your brain and so I have stayed up nights to do the thinking for you. So without further ado here is the result of months of thinking. I present to you: the ten greatest books of all times.
10. To begin our list we have at number 10 the children’s classic: Charlotte’s Web.
This truly delightful book has enchanted children for years but more importantly it stays in the minds of adults. When in need of some comfort and to remember the security of childhood this is the perfect book to revisit. The story of Charlotte A. Cavatica, Wilbur the pig and little Fern is full of laughs and not a few tears but guarantees that at the end of the reading session the reader will feel full of memories of childhood again.
9. It was tough to decide between whether this should be number eight or nine but here it is just behind eight (at nine that is!): The Awakening.
This classic story by Kate Chopin tells of the development of a woman into an individual being at the turn of the century. The main character is sometimes difficult to identify with but by the end of the story you have complete sympathy for her. Based in Louisiana it follows the heroine Edna as she struggles to come to terms with some unorthodox views she holds about her own position in society. The novel focuses on the realities of Edna’s everyday life and forces the reader to acknowledge how stiflingand suffocating it was for her. This novel is often seen as a landmark piece of fiction by feminists and it is a great story to boot.
8. The other one that was involved in that contest for place that kept me up nights is: The Lord of the Flies
What can be said about this classic text that is already so familiar to so many people. Despite being forced to read this in school I still felt that it was one of the most powerful books that I have ever read. It follows a group of boys who are stranded alone after an accident as they create their own civilisation but quickly revert to barbarism. It is an important text in the study of the power of society to create and regulate behaviour and is disturbing in that it forces us to question how realistic such a portrayal is. Are we really so close to de-evolution as this story suggests?
7. This is another classic tale that is often read by children in school but is again a story that affects adults when they read it just as much as children. At number seven I have chosen: To Kill a Mocking Bird.
The story of Jean-Louise ‘Scout’ Finch and her coming of age in 1930s Alabama is one that still has resonance with us today. Scout’s father is a lawyer who is defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Scout does notreally understand the significance of what her father is doing but she has to stand up to the backlash from it. In Scout’s father Atticus we meet a fabulous portrayal of a southern gentleman who is an excellent father and a truly supreme human being who is fighting a case that he knows there is no chance he can win in his place and time. The novel was published in 1960 and is set on events that were witnessed by Harper Lee in her hometown in Alabama in the 1960s. Published as it was during this period in American history it immediately found its way into the hearts and minds of many Americans and is still taught around the world today.
6. Number six on this list is the horrifying book: American Psycho.
This is the story of a Patrick Bateman living in New York. The tale is told in the first person by the hero who is both a young urban professional and a serial killer. The novel depicts in gruesome detail some of the acts that are carried out by Bateman in New York. The graphic violence and sexual scenes in the novel made it controversial and often avoided but for satirical content it would be difficult to find a more probing expose of the life of the new New Yorker of the 1980s and of the rich and jaded Americans of the same period. Disturbing and controversial it may be but this novel was both powerful and thought provoking. I defy anyone to have a good night’s sleep after reaching the end of it!
5. Next on the list is the African novel: Things fall Apart
This novel is about the colonisation of Nigeria but, unusually, it is told from an African point of view. Although the colonisation is the turning point in the novel for the main character it is not dealt with in any great detail and does not appear until close to the end of the novel. Rather the story deals with the civilisation that was in existence before the coming of the Europeans. As such it demonstrates that there was an evolved society already in place and negates European suggestions that the reason for colonisation was to bring civilisation to the African. Chinua Achebe is renowned for having referred to Joseph Conrad as ‘a bloody racist’ when talking of his novel The Heart of Darkness and his own work is something of an answer to this. In the Heart of Darkness the African has his voice taken away from him but Achebe acts to give it back.
4. My fourth choice was written by one of my countrymen and contains all that it means to be a dandy at the Fin de Siecle. It is : The Picture of Dorian Gray.
This novel deals with the curse of perpetual youth and the slow degeneration of the main character. It also questions the differences between the reputation of a man and of a woman and the way such things can be effected. Most importantly, in true Oscar Wilde style, it deals with the hypocrisy of the upper classes in Victorian England. The preface to the novel is often concentrated on quite closely and with due reason. It reads almost like poetry instead of prose and rejects the idea that art should have any use in life. To understand the preface one needs to read the book and learn the outcome but also to know something of the notoriety and reputation of the author.
3. Drawing quickly towards the number one now but in third place is the novel: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Or, as it is called in English (the language I read it in), Dangerous Liaisons. This is a story of intrigue, love, selfishness and the eventual fall that is brought by pride. The novel is a series of letters that tell us the story of the intrigues of the Marquise de Merteuil and her lover Vicomte de Valmont. The actions of these pair of bored aristocrats drive the plot and lead to the destruction of the reputations and lives of a number of the characters before finally they manage todestroy themselves. A classic tale of comeuppance and revenge.
2. The runner-up is one of the strangest and most addictive books i have ever read in my life: The House of Leaves.
This, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of the most distinctive books I have ever read. The various footnotes jumping to many places, the circular script and the sheer weirdness of the story all combine to both make your head hurt and to make you feel exhilarated. Reading this book on the bus will get you some very odd looks as at times you appear to be reading strange script and at points you have the choice of either turning the book in circles or of lying on the floor and turning yourself in circles. At that point you have so entered into the weirdness of the experience that you will entertain thoughts of either alternative. This book makes you live the story and also made me lie awake watching the walls because, outside of my rational brain, I had an idea that the they may just be getting a little closer or further away from me.
1. Finally we have done it, we have reached number 1. Which book deserves to reach these dizzying heights and to get a heartfelt round of applause. there is only one; the ultimate love story and the perfect example of the destructiveness of excess passion: Wuthering Heights.
This classic story of love, passion, revenge and spirituality is the ultimate in reading. The writing style is elegant and the story is addictive. The names of Cathy and Heathcliff have entered common parlance and the story has stood the test of time. And while this is the ultimate love story it is so much more than that. It also deals with alcoholism, self-destructiveness, revenge and brutality. If you like the pretty love story this one may not be for you but for me it is definitely number one.
I acknowledge that there are books out there that I have never read and there may be one just around the corner that will change my mind about this list but I have sure read a darn lot of them and these are the ones that I loved most. Agree?