Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Brilliant Books for Holiday Reading

Tomorrow, dear reader, I will depart for Southern France. I will discourse at the opening of an exhibition in the Aix-en-Provence Cezanne Museum, I will attend the music festival at La Roque d’Antheron, I will visit with my dear old friend the author Ian Robertson in Arles, walk up and down the top of the Pont du Gard, as I have done yearly ever since I turned 16, and I will supervise the soccer championship of my old home town Auxerre-sur-Bloise, of whose football club I am the honorary president. It is a busy agenda which will fill the next three weeks. Hence there will be no Metis Meets Mittington until, say, September 7.

Yet do not worry! You will not need to bore yourself to tears. Nor do you need to reach for the bottle to attain blessed oblivion. I have drawn up a reading list of splendid books to keep you busy and happy over the next 21 days, half of them historical and half of them fiction. Go to your bookshop, order these titles, catch up on your reading. Oh, and do – of course – do so in a comfy hammock of your garden with that bottle within reach. What else is the summer for?

Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird

Surely one of the very best novels to come out of the 20th century. It has children for its main characters (Yuk!) It plays in the racist south of the USA (Aaargh!) One of the children – they say – is based on the young Truman Capote (Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Bring out the Pitbull Terriers!) In short: it has every feature it needs for Alfred B Mittington to hate the guts of this despicable piece of work a priori. And yet… I have read it five times. And each time I like it better. It is brilliant. It is a work of genius. And the portrait of Atticus Finch (the children’s father) is simply beyond description: the narrative equivalent of Chartre Cathedral.

Patrick Süskind: The Perfume

Who would have thought that one of the most novel novels of the last 100 years would have come out of Germany? Germans have many outstanding qualities, but originality is not necessarily one of them. One rather looks towards Renaissance Italians for that kind of stuff. Or French authors with an absinth habit (yummie, by the way!) And yet: here you have it, dear reader: one of the most original ideas for a work of fiction that you ever came across. Something never done before. And then done so very well that it needs not to be repeated, copied, plagiarized or mass-produced in Japan at lower costs. The quest of a halfwit with one extra-ordinary skill for the purest scent of Love; and the cruel tale of how all success ultimately contains a proportional disappointment. Read it for yourself. The movie (which you may have seen) is but a shadow of this fine work of art.

John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces

You couldn’t make it up. And yet one man of bottomless genius did: a main character who is a sophisticated intellectual of exquisite taste and yet possesses the personality of a gross, self-centred, deceiving ogre, a manipulative hooligan in the human arena who plays the lute and muses about Hroswitha and Abelard… No character in literature is all at once so revolting and so amusing, so shockingly honest and yet so utterly despicable. Set in New Orleans in the innocent age of the 50s or 60s – when nude pictures still constituted a major crime! – and peopled with a human zoo of unsurpassed variety, the book is by far too long; and yet it never bothers you, for Ignatius J. Reilly is one of those dishes of which the diner always desires one more serving…


No comments:

Post a Comment