The Impossibility of Nominating a Favourite Novel
My teenage daughter will be spending the next few days at a creative writing retreat organised by her college. Since it’s fair to say that her writing skills are infinitely superior to her organisational ability, I volunteered to help her pack. Reading through the check-list of stuff needed for the trip, I saw that attendees were required to bring along their favourite novel in order to talk about it and read selected excerpts aloud.
This started me thinking. Frankly, I’m not sure I could ever pinpoint my absolute favourite book. Certainly there are many that I love and revisit time and again for a feel-good rush. Under that category I would include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford and all the works of Jane Austen.
Then there are the two historical novels that broke my heart the first time I read them and have occupied a special place in my affections ever since: We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman and Katherine by Anya Seton. Other old friends in the history genre are Winston Graham’s Poldark novels and the Falco mysteries by Lindsey Davis. Not forgetting Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies; I’m aware that they divide opinion but as far as I’m concerned, they are close to literary perfection, as are I Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves.
While I liked many of Maeve Binchy’s warm-hearted novels, I think her crowning achievement was the magnificent Light a Penny Candle. For evoking middle-class life in Britain immediately before, during and after WWII, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles are unbeatable. I also adored Robert Goddard’s Past Caring and In Pale Battalions.
As for more recent fiction, I was spellbound by Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, much admired Jesse Burton’s The Miniaturist and have enjoyed pretty much everything by Tracy Chevalier. As a mother I have also over the years had the pleasure of discovering a fair bit of fiction for children and young adults. My favourites in these genres are Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now.
Out of all of these excellent books, I really have no idea which I would nominate as my number one favourite. I think it would very much depend on my mood at the time of asking. That’s why I’m so glad I’m not in my daughter’s position of having to choose!