Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dickens, T.H. White and Susan Hill

In the October 2019 issue of Clinical Psychology Forum I answered a few questions about my taste in books for its Books R Us feature.

The book you most often recommend

When I tell people they should read Dickens, which is often, it is Great Expectations I recommend. It is of manageable length, extremely good and contains all the Dickensian themes you could wish for.

The book you should have read but didn't get round to

It’s a long list - as, more shamingly, is the list of books I have started but not persevered with - but at the top is War and Peace.

The book you wish you had written

Ultimately, of course, it’s just Cinderella for boys, but I admire T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone inordinately. It is funny and sad, wise and silly, steeped in history and turns anachronism into an art form.

The book you wish hadn't been written

Wishing books hadn’t been written is not so far from wanting to burn them, so let’s talk about books I wish I hadn’t read. Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime novels are a recent example. I tried one and found I was supposed to care more about the careers of the detective’s extended middle-class family than I was about the fate of the abducted child. What really shocked me was the disregard of the rules of the genre. I tried another to see if it was better. It wasn’t.

The funniest book you know

The older I get, the more I appreciate wit employed in writing with a serious purpose. Paradoxically, setting out to be funny for the sake of it feels cold blooded. So let me choose a young man’s book: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Waugh's "Decline and Fall" is a good choice. I once used it in the Commons debate on the Academies Bill to general mystification as no-one who would have read it could have missed the irony of that particular proposal. Philistines !

"The Bill suggests that simply calling schools academies without the dosh will work some special magic. I am personally intrigued by this relabelling exercise.

There may be a day when simply calling an institution a "school" might be some sort of insult or an indication of failure. I do not know whether other hon. Members have read Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall" but in it the hapless Paul Pennyfeather seeks a teaching job through an agency having been expelled from Oxford. He is told by the man at the agency:

"We class schools...into...Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School. Frankly...School is pretty bad".

Interestingly enough, Waugh's unfortunate character Paul Pennyfeather was expelled from Oxford for indecency, having been de-bagged by drunken members of what Waugh calls the Bollinger Club. There is a slight resonance in that.