Whilst looking at emeraldstreet.com and their fantastic 100 best opening lines of books with its lovely gallery I found a link to this list of the 20 books you must read. It is from stylist.co.uk, not sure on how much I rate their opinion yet but their magazine looks quite interesting and not completely full of the normal vacuous women’s crap.
Not sure if I agree with many of them actually apart from Rebecca. Ghostwritten is good but not my favourite David Mitchell but interesting all the same. Wolf Hall for me was overrated as was Girlfriend in a Coma. Howards End over A Room with a View? Outrageous. There are some that I havent read here so any comments on whether they are worth reading would be helpful.
T H E A L L – T I M E C L A S S I C S
THE GREAT GATSBY BY F Scott Fitzgerald
HOWARDS END BY EM Forster
LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE BY Nancy Mitford
TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD BY Harper Lee
THE GROUP BY Mary McCarthy
EXCELLENT WOMEN BY Barbara Pym
REBECCA BY Daphne du Maurier
T H E M O D E R N M U S T – R E A D S
HEARTBURN BY Nora Ephron
GHOSTWRITTEN BY David Mitchell
COVER HER FACE BY PD James
THE BLIND ASSASSIN BY Margaret Atwood
WOLF HALL BY Hilary Mantel
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS BY Jacqueline Susann
GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA BY Douglas Coupland
T H E N E W F A V O U R I T E S
ONE DAY BY David Nicholls
SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY BY Gary Shteyngart
VISION OF LOVELINESS BY Louise Levene
THE RULES OF CIVILITY BY Amor Towles
THE BEST OF EVERYTHING BY Rona Jaffe
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD BY Jennifer Egan
This takes place at the end of 18th century in Nagasaki in Dejima, a Dutch trading post in the final days of the Dutch Empire. Jacob de Zoek is a clerk trying to make his fortune in Japan in order for him to marry the woman he loves back in Holland. However he meets Orito a Japanese midwife and falls in love with her but cultural prohibitions make the relationship taboo. At this time it was illegal to be a Christian and foreigners were unable to take Japanese out of the country.
The book is divided into three main parts:
Jacob at Dejima
Orito in the Mount Shiranui Shrine
Conflict between the British navy and the Dutch, and their attempt to take over the trading post.
Whilst reading the book jacket I was impressed by its amazing reviews such as it being a ‘masterpiece’ or ‘my book of the year’, eg http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/may/09/thousand-autumns-jacob-zoet-mitchell. Therefore I was very excited as I love Mitchell’s books (except for number9dream) and historical novels, but I was very disappointed with this. I just couldn’t get into it for the first 200 or so pages, however the second part in the shrine is more interesting and the third part seems more like the old Mitchell and it is much more humorous. He has also obviously done a lot of research on Japanese culture in the 18th century and that is very interesting, especially the concept of honour suicides but sometimes it does fall into the trap of showing off the research at the expense of the story.
There is a timeline of the real historical events at back of the book but it is a shame it wasnt at the front as it gives some context and it was sometimes hard to follow exactly what was going on. Mitchell has written an article on historical fiction which is good on the history of historical fiction – even referring to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as a piece of historical fiction. He argues historical novels were previously linked with blue rinses and how this type of fiction can illuminate our world today – although I would debate these points. Lots of authors have argued that in fact historical fiction can just be entertainment in its own right and doesn’t have to have a message. I heard an interesting podcast on this on Radio 4’s Open Book although was completed wound up by Mariella Frostrup’s comment that history teaching is undergoing a crisis – a view I would argue is only held by nationalist Tory politicians.
Open Book Historical Fiction
But anyway overall it was unfortunately largely unenjoyable and disappointing – I am hoping one of my favourite authors goes back to form. Everyone else loves it, why don’t I?