My Literary Top 10:
Best short story I’ve ever read
What’s my feeling about this today? Hemingway’s ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ comes to mind. On second thoughts, I’d probably go for something by Katherine Mansfield. How about ‘Bliss’? Light, febrile, but with that shadow that always accompanies her work. If not ‘Bliss’ then ‘Prelude’.
My favourite opening line of a novel:
Well, you can’t go for Pride and Prejudice, can you? The opening of EM Forster’s Howard’s End has always seemed to me the ultimate of cool. ‘One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.’ To change the tone, Solzhenitsyn’s ‘On top of it all, the cancer wing was number thirteen’ gives a certain macabre piquancy to Cancer Ward. Or how about Jane Rogers opening line of Island? ‘When I was twenty-eight I decided to kill my mother’. I like the detail, don’t you? Twenty-eight. Not ‘in my twenties’ or ‘about thirty’.
Best ‘film of the book’
I’ll go for a TV version of one of the classic novels. How about that — was it 1970s? — version of War and Peace that sent us all back to the text!
My favourite novel that no-one else seems to have heard of
In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming’s portrait of a child’s growing to
consciousness in 1950s Barbados. This novel used to be famous; it should be again. I’m also astonished more people haven’t heard of After the Time Before, Alan Mahar’s compelling human drama, set in the Midlands, which is, at the same time, a portrait of life in Thatcher’s Britain.
Best crime novel by a woman writer
Maybe something that doesn’t announce itself as crime. I know: that magical, scary novel by Jane Rogers, Island, where a woman wants to kill her mother. Jane won’t thank me for describing it as a ‘crime novel’, but then, she’s not to know.
The book I’d most like to reread, if I could find it again
Village in the Vaucluse, by Laurence Wylie. There you go; I thought the man’s name was Martin, not Laurence. I first read it in the south of France 30-odd years ago, when I was planning to write something similar about my own village in the Alpes Maritimes.
Book that should be on the national curriculum
Alice Munro’s new collection, Runaway, should certainly be on the national — and every other — curriculum.
My favourite bookshop
Something in Greenwich Village of long ago? Or Barnes & Noble, even today. Nearer home, across the channel to Paris, a restocked Shakespeare & Co. Or, also in Paris, 6.arr, The Village Voice.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for literature
Without doubt, Alice Munro, whose short stories satisfy one emotionally, intellectually and psychically. She provides you with the ‘novel’ experience in a short space.
The deceased author I’d most like to teach a short story class with
Italo Calvino. I’d like us to go through with the class the ideas behind his Six Memos for the Next Millennium — and see what sort of discussion and writing it provokes.