Thanks very much to everyone for playing along so far. Please add your choices. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘N’.
Edith Nesbit wrote a book that was not only a joy to read, but was also turned into one of my favourite British Films. ‘The Railway Children’ was published in 1906, and captures the spirit of that age in every way imaginable. The story of a family displaced after the wrongful arrest of the father is completely timeless in so many ways, yet in this case, rooted in the age of steam railways, good manners, and the social behaviour of the early 20th century. Who can fail to be entranced by this simple tale of social differences, acceptance in a new home, and a suitably happy ending? This is a feel-good book, in every way imaginable, and deserves its revered status as both book and film.
My next choice is from Charles Dickens again, and his wonderful novel, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’. First published in 1838, I could not fail to be entranced by this tale of unfortunate boys, and their life at a school run by the gloriously named Wackford Squeers. Nicholas arrives as a new teacher, and he is appalled at the treatment of the boys, at the hands of Squeers and his wife. The poor figure of Smike, an older boy used as little more than a slave, and the awful daughter of Squeers, Fanny, who sets her cap at Nicholas, and determines to become his wife. These are just some of the characters who become flesh, thanks to Dickens’ marvellous descriptive writing. One of his best indeed, and highly recommended.
‘North and South’ is a novel from 1982, by John Jakes. This is a sprawling saga set around the US Civil War, and takes the well-used theme of different families; friends before the war, driven apart by events. One officer from the South loves a woman from the Northern family, and the reverse applies too. Former loyal friends serve on opposite sides in the ensuing conflict, and throughout the war, they find it difficult to resolve their many differences. This is Civil War soap opera on a large scale, and was later made into a very successful TV mini-series. As something of a Civil War buff, I naturally lapped it up. I will leave you to decide if it is your sort of thing.
A wartime novel of complex construction, I read Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked And The Dead’ in my teens, and have not revisited it since. Using his own experiences serving in the army during the campaign in the Philippines in WW2, Mailer delivers a convincing story of men at war; combat, death, and comradeship in all their forms. The reader is drawn into the lives and fates of the numerous characters, with convincing detail, and many upsetting episodes as the book progresses. Also made into a successful film in 1958, ten years after the publication of the book.
My top pick today is the famous novel by George Orwell, ‘Nineteen eighty-four’. Published in 1949, this vision of a world ruled by the omnipotent ‘Big Brother’ has become something of a standard work in English literature, and given us the ‘Big Brother’ idea of the all-seeing state, as well as the terrifying concept of ‘Room 101’, the place where we face our worst fears. It also introduced a stylistic language, ‘Newspeak’, which could be considered to be a foretelling of the modern language inspired by texting, and the Internet. In a future world divided into three enormous and constantly warring states, the characters try to survive in a claustrophobic atmosphere, where their every move is monitored, and personal freedom doesn’t exist. In many ways, it is the original dystopian novel, giving rise to many imitators. But to this day, it remains incomparable in the genre. It was also adapted into a film in 1956, and appropriately again, in 1984.