F is for Faulks

Because Birdsong is the Dog’s Bollocks. End of.

Longer version: continuing my bookshelf A-Z of favourite authors and their top stories. F’s not a prolific author surname, but there are some standouts, Ian Fleming, much derided in the 1050s by sniffy contemporaries like Graham Greene for being a hack not an artist – but um, let’s see – Brighton Rock or 25 Bond films and counting? Then there’s Jonathan Frantzen for his magnifient The Corrections – surely one of the finest novels of recent generations, And the incomparable F. Scott Fitzgerald with his masterpiece The Great Gatsby – period-heavy tale of love, obsession, class and teh American Dream (again sniffed at by his contemporaries).

So why am I choosing Sebastian Faulks’ BIrdsong over Bond or Gatsby? Well The Bond novels don’t represent great writing even though the character is, undewniably, iconic and enduring. And Gatsby? There’s a car-crawh plot contrivance at the end that’s always bothered me. Bridsong’s not without its issues either, It’s mostly set against the backdrop of the First World War but for the first 100 pages or so (it’s a long novel) there’s nary a trench in sight – early on, the story concentrates on an illicit love affair between a British businessman and a married Frenchwoman. And then the war kicks in. Layered, intricate and engaging, Birdsong timeslips before, during and after the war to great effect examining love, loss, war and sacrifice. The (relatively) modern day sections are probably a mistake, but they’re short. And there’s a sequence towards the end – where our hero is trapped in tunnels under enemy lines – that build up suspense and tension better than any writing I can recall. Astounding writing. F is for Faulks and for Birdsong.

Birdsong: Amazon.co.uk: Faulks, Sebastian: 9780099387916: Books

E is for Eliot

Continuing my A-Z roundup of best on my shelves.

I know, I know – all getting literary around here and no zombies or space opera in sight. But George Eliot’s Middlemarch is the standout best book of the 19th Century, in my opinion. And then there’s The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner…

I think part of the reason for my choice is that poor old Mary Anne Evans had to change her name in order to get published. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for her to find a publisher, let alone the encouragement to continue writing in such a male-dominated world. Her writing was far from stereotypical either – Middlemarch is all about death, obligation, debt and disgrace. It challenges the notion that women can’t be strong and independent as it entertainingly portrays 19th century life. This book, and this writer, have stayed with me for decades, so this selection is straightforward. E is for Eliot and particularly for Middlemarch.

Portrait of Eliot, c. 1849

Darker more contemporary choices would be Bret Easton Ellis for the disturbing but magnificent American Pshycho and Harlan Ellison for just about everything, though he could have been a bit nicer about it (a legendary staight talking curmudgen). F will be more modern, I promise!