Arts & Culture

Books – December 22

Well, that was harder than I thought. Pick your top five books of all time. With the many I have left out I feel I have betrayed them. With the books that made the list, they may not be the greatest literary achievements in the world but they are the ones I seem to have the most emotional attachments to. Give this exercise a try, challenging yet enjoyable, a bit like listening to Mariah Carey at Christmas.

by Andrew Hirst

The First One: 

The Hobbit

by J. R. R. Tolkein

I know… this is on most lists, but this time it is on a list for a different reason. I remember as a child being forced to take books home from the school library and promptly ignoring them until I could return them, unread, without drawing too much attention to myself. Picture the scene… bored, school holidays, searching for something to do and I accidentally find The Hobbit gathering dust in the corner. Skip ahead a few days and I have made it half way through. Imagine the horror as a then reluctant reader being tricked into enjoying a book, what is this witchcraft? I couldn’t get enough of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, so much so I felt a sense of loss when I reached the end. I recommend you read this, even if you have seen the film; however, a word of caution… although I love this book I have tried and failed with the Lord of the Rings; give it a go, see what you think.

The Spy One: 

Forever and a Day

by Anthony Horowitz

This is set as a prequel to the events of Casino Royale, Fleming’s first Bond novel, and is set in the French Riviera in 1950, Bond investigates the killing of the previous man designated 007. Here Horowitz was hot off the success of his previous outing between the covers of a Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. In both novels Horowitz has incorporate unused Fleming material in the new story and has treated it sensitively and successfully, akin to a great architect weaving a old building into a new. The pace of the book reads well and having loved the Fleming original novels I enjoyed how this felt like an original with updated prose. This is a pure indulgent piece of escapism and is thoroughly enjoyable. This easily consumed and the only criticism is that it is over too quickly.

The One that was more than a book: 

Raw Shark Texts

by Steven Hall

Where do you start with this one? It has been described as the bastard love-child of The Matrix, Jaws and The Da Vinci Code this will take you on a roller coaster ride through ‘un-space’. I have tried to explain this book to many people without giving too much away. Part mystery, part thriller, part love-story and like nothing I have ever read before. The rights to this have been secured and rumour has it that Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) has completed a Raw Shark Texts screenplay for Blueprint Films, although no director or cast have been confirmed for this project. The sheer complexities of this plot will no doubt be a challenge to transfer over to the screen.

Is this my favourite book of all time? Anything with a mysteroius figure called Mr. Nobody, an amnesiac re-discovering his past life through a surreal collection of clues, a really big shark and a cat called Ian. What is there not to love?

The Gripping One: 

The Dinner Guest

by B. P. Walter

Did you get an invite to dinner? No? This is probably for the best on this occasion. Served up is a big bowl of secrets and lies, followed by a smorgasbord of anger, hate and revenge (which is best served like Gazpacho). You might need to read this with a large glass of Cab-Sav with rich with complex flavours. Okay, enough of the culinary references.

Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave. Agatha Christie meets Donna Tartt in this nerve-shredding domestic noir thriller that weaves a sprawling web of secrets around an opulent West London world and the dinner that ends in death. A gripping thriller you won’t want to put down.

The Big Magic One:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

I should start by saying I have never read a story by Jodi Picoult that I didn’t love. She is the master of huge and unanswerable moral dilemmas, and The Storyteller is no different. Sage Singer is a young woman, carrying tremendous personal pain, who joins a grief support group and befriends a kindly elderly gentleman called Josef. The friendship takes a turn when Josef confesses, he was once a Nazi and asks Sage to assist him to die. Unbeknownst to Josef, he crossed paths at Auschwitz with Sage’s grandmother Minka, a Jewish prisoner of war. The story travels back through the stench and grit of the concentration camp with poignant and realistic details that are both harrowing but necessary to truly relay the horrors of The Holocaust. Ultimately, Sage makes her decision but as always in Picoult’s work, there is a twist that turns the story like a kaleidoscope, just when you least expect it. This book stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

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