Desert Island Fiction

It’s World Book Day on Thursday.  In anticipation I invite you to choose your desert island fiction.  As a self-imposed restraint one book per writer.

My eight (as of today):

Love and Garbage by Ivan Klima – dissident life in Prague and a meditation on life, love, and street cleaning

1982 Janine, by Alasdair Gray – a suffocating time inside the head of a Scottish businessman suffering a break down in Gray’s most powerful novel

The Castle by Franz Kafka – Roth once said that he felt the perfect film version would have starred the Marx Brothers – read it with that in mind and you can see why Kafka kept his neighbours awake with his laughter as he was writing

A Perfect Spy by John le Carre – no Smiley but semi-autobiographical examination of le Carre’s father and his relationship with him.  Magnificent.

The Book of Evidence by John Banville – a murderous confession, Banville’s brilliant prose with a plot.

Hide and Seek by Dennis Potter – a central character who is writing about a character who believes he is a character in a book.  A meditation on creativity, religion, and sex, and the root of The Singing Detective and Potter’s great 1970s plays.

A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem – it was this or Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.  A collection of fake book reviews – erudite and witty – wins the day.

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth – at the vanguard of great American art about puppeteers 😉

Bubbling under

The Trick is to keep breathing by Janice Galloway; James Meek’s Last Orders; MArquez’s Love in the time of cholera; Rabbit Angstrom by Updike (the Everyman four volume omnibus); Plath’s Bell Jar; Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians; Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic; Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Laughing Policeman; and JL Carr’s How Steeple SInderby Wanderers won the FA Cup.

If I’d chosen on Thursday I’d probably have a different eight

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About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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15 Responses to Desert Island Fiction

  1. Some splendid choices there.
    Kafka – I slightly prefer The Trial.
    Lem – perfect choice. That’s a headfuck of a book. I especially love Rien du tout, ou La consequence, Obergruppenführer Louis XIV and Gigamesh. I really wanted to read those books… the nearest I’ve come since then is Catty and the Major in Steve Aylett’s superb Lint.
    JleC – although A Perfect Spy is his best book in a literary sense I don’t think it’s his most entertaining – for that I think the scale and contrasts in The Honourable Schoolboy take some beating.

    • ON le Carre, I think I’m partial to A Perfect Spy because thanks to the McAnally casting in the BBC adaptation I was hooked on the series and consequently it was the first of his novels that I read.
      The Lem I imported from the US. That only SOlaris remains in print in the UK is shocking

      • Can’t believe most of Lem is out of print! – I remember buying Solaris, The Chain of Chance and A Perfect Vacuum in a nice one-volume King Penguin in about ’83 or so, a lot of his books seemed to reappear in the early 90s and I filled in a lot of gaps then!

      • APS was a splendid piece of TV; Peter Egan was never less than superb in it too, but I think he’s an almost criminally underrated actor.

  2. My 8 – in no particular order if you please.
    (NB/ I am not a huge book fan, so I’m afraid my choices are a little more mainstream, one might say)
    – “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A book I find to be a little haunting.
    – “A day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I did this as part of my dissertation on morals, philosophies, and ideologies in Russian literature a couple of years ago. Ridiculously readable and simplistic. Eternally effective though.
    – “Crime and Punishment” by Fydor Dostoevsky. Another part of my dissertation (see above), and an altogether different proposition. Admittedly I felt as though I had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson after reading this, and at times it bizaared me beyond belief, but it did spread a nice message of hope.
    – “The Visitor” by Lee Child. Ok,ok, very light reading. But the best in the Jack Reacher series I feel, and a compelling plotline (all the sex and muscles aside).
    – “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by JK Rowling. Yes, I can hear you snigger. But in my opinion a truly masterful piece of work. Had me skimming the pages just so I could see what happened quicker. Truly majestic plotline and characterisation, complemented by just a shade of humour and a touch of macabre.
    – “100 Cases That Every Scots Law Student Should Know” by LawBasics. Ok, not a work of fiction, but I don’t read that many fiction books, and this has oft been my bedtime companion, providing laughs, learning, and giggles along the way.
    – “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. I have a joint copy of this and “Daisy Miller” purchased some years ago for the princely sum of 30p from John Menzies.
    – “The Well of Lost Plots” by Jasper Fforde. An author my mum describes as ‘ruddy great.’

    • the 100 cases book? Ah, happy days. But fiction?
      An eclectic mix.

      • Well, it could be argued that the case titles were fictional! “A Glasgow Hard Case”; “The Burden of Bon-Accord Square” (which, incidentally, a group of us believe would sound better as ‘the bonny burden of bon accord square’ – appeals made to the editor have, however, fallen on deaf ears); or my personal favourite “its a long way to bellahouston”
        Anyway, if anyone can recommend a better fiction book to take its place in the top 8, im all ears.

        • Ah, the puns in the titles: Lost at high C; The Rug Trade; and a peculiar obsession with cow cases.

          • Most down to Professor Rodger’s somewhat (self-admitted) askew sense of humour, it should be said!
            Cows are a main feature of the book, and a strange dedication too.

          • Ah, there are better puns than Professor Rodger’s…

          • Right, this is the first time I have been able to post with a copy of the book in front of me. ill pick out some favourites:
            “the bonny burden,” ‘o course.
            “Where parliament fears to tread”
            “A question of trust”!! I forgot about that one: supreme!
            “For those in peril drinking tea”
            “Nurse Ratchet would have approved”
            “Marx is right as usual, or the art of clubmanship”
            “Not so slim Pickins for the railways.” ha!
            “A Local Story, for local people.” how LoG!!
            “Running Rings around the taxman!” superb!
            “I cant believe its not a monopoly!” again superb!
            “Another Day, another dollar.”
            “Not so Sharp practice.” I think that was the title of the article too wasnt it?
            “Sexually transmitted debt.” Was this not also the title of G Gretton’s article?
            “The General, the Judge, and the penalty shootout”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ooh, tricky one! I’ve been mulling this over during the weekend and keep changing my mind. As of today, though, it’d be:
    1) Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
    2) The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith)
    3) Simple Justice (John Morgan Wilson)
    4) The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
    5) The Damned Utd (David Peace)
    6) The Reader (Bernhard Schlink)
    7) Collected poems of TS Eliot
    8) Collected plays of Harold Pinter
    Bear in mind I read too much crime fiction, which accounts for nos. 2 and 3! I’d try to cheat, though, and take all of Highsmith’s Ripley series, which must be collected together somewhere in one volume and therefore count as one choice!
    Runners-up were Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence (far better than JK Rowling and on a par with Philip Pullman’s trilogy; Camus’s The Outsider; Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; Sarah Kane’s collected plays and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (better than the one which won the Booker).
    Shaz

    • I’ve always struggled with Midnights Children because, I think, I was too young when I first read it – and consequently feel bogged down in the same passages today. I’m very fond of East, West, though; and read The Satanic Verses at much the same time, and loved it.
      My wife is a big HIghsmith fan. The next two I don’t know I’m afraid, but I’ll have a look around for them.
      I love David Peace but felt that I should reserve my view on The Damned Utd until a little more time had passed. It’s a magnificent book and was shamefully overlooked for the awards last year (as his Red Riding QUartet was overlooked by the CWA IIRC). Perhaps, because he is isolated from the publishers in Japan he is off the radar come awards ceremonies.
      I watched Celebration last night and was reminded how funny Pinter is. It’s like Kafka in my original post. There is a mythology surrounding both, that they are austere and imposing but both are witty and find humour and discomfort at the same time.
      I didn’t include any crime fiction in my list aside from the Banville (which I would happily classify as such).
      I agree about the Hollinghurst. I think The Swimming Pool Library is far and away his best. I read it after reading Jake Arnott’s Long Firm – which is an interesting coupling.

  4. Keeping on this topic, can anyone recommend any second-hand bookshops (whether charity shops etc) in the Glasgow/Edinburgh/Falkirk central belt area?? Ive taken due note of the books mentioned in this thread and if I could find some cheap copies I’d quite like a read of them.

    • GLasgow is pretty weak but there was a decent OXfam bookshop at the west end.
      Falkirk has a BHF charity shop with some decent books (including many donations from myself); Linlithgow a Red Cross shop. Edinburgh is farn and away the best though. Walk from the grassmarket towards Lothian Road and you pass 3 or 4 seocnd hand shops on your right hand side. One specialises in paperbacks and you get some bloody good stuff in it.
      Best wishes
      Scott
      PS only received this reply this week! Was unaware of it until then. No idea why not.

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