A Literary A-Z: N

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.

71 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: N

  1. Pete, I’m going to cheat just a little here. My choice for N is Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549). When Marguerite remarried in 1527, her new husband was Henri II d’Albret, King of Navarre. Therefore, her last name, which is that of a region, was acquired through nobility. Marguerite de Navarre was one of the first women in what is now France to produce literature. She is of particular significance to me because she wrote “L’Heptaméron,” which was inspired by “The Decameron,” written by Giovanni Boccaccio. “L’Heptaméron” is a collection of short stories as told by five men and five women who are stranded at a mountain resort following a flash flood.

    Why is this work so special in my eyes? Because I was inspired by its structure when writing the introductory tome to a science fiction series, “The Dreams of Emmy de Zelaware.” The introductory tome is entitled, “Yaaländogs! Part I: Bar-LeDeuc” (2002), where “Yaaländogs!” is the first of four “arc groups” in the series, which will count 14 tomes when finished. I have yet to continue with the series, but plan to do so in the not-too-distant future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What can I say: North and South is an absolutely great story.
    When I read “1984”, I thought “what nonsense!”. Today I think, clearly, everything normal, is not impossible!

    I add two German authors: Dieter Noll and Ursula Nuber.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved E. Nesbit’s Railway Children, and Five Children and It! This category also wouldn’t be complete without Orwell’s 1984. And I also loved Nicholas Nickleby, and North and South, both the series and tv miniseries. Here’s a few more.

    Nancy Drew – Keene
    Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro
    Neverwhere – Gaiman
    Night -Wiesel
    The Night Manager – le Care
    Nightmares and Dreamscapes – King
    The Norby series – Asimov
    Not Without My Daughter – Mahmoody
    Notes Of A Native Son – Baldwin
    Number the Stars – Lowry
    The Napoleon of Nottinghill – Chesterton
    Naked In Death – Robb

    Authors: Garth Nix, John Newbery, Celeste Ng, Laura Numeroff, Andre Norton, Mary Norton, Olga Nolla, Friedrich Nietzsche

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good to see you add ‘Never Let Me Go’, Kim. I left that out, expecting it to get a lot of attention. A haunting read, and a pretty good film too. Thanks as always for your other picks too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interestingly enough, my G choice Elizabeth Gaskell also wrote a book called “North and South” about England. Loved the Railway Children too. My N choice is Fae Myenne Ng for her book “Bone” which explores the suicide of a daughter. My students liked it very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s nice you mentioned John Jakes. I loved reading his series in high school including North and South. He is somewhat an inspiration. I am doing a 20th-century series by going forward 20 years and bringing along a character from the previous novel. Anyway, the N. My choices would be ‘the Namesake’, Elie Wiesel’s, ‘Night’, and Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. John Forbes Nash Jr. I am cheating a bit as he authored scholarly (incomprehensible to most of us) papers rather than books. However, his ‘equilibrium points in an n-person game’ played an important part in my life.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve gotten through the first book in the North & South trilogy. I did enjoy it, but it was so, so, so long! The second book in the trilogy is over 40 hours of listening time. That’s like a full time job, listening to a book that long. I’ll eventually get to it, I’m sure.

    As for my own contribution, I’m currently reading one that counts – Naked, by David Sedaris. I am thoroughly enjoying it. He’s not for everyone, but I do enjoy his nonfiction (his fiction, though? I can’t stand it when it shows up in the middle of his nonfiction books).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. R K Narayan is a very popular Indian writer. He wrote in English. I love all his books. He is from south India and we can relate to all his stories.

    R. K. Narayan – Wikipedia

    R. K. Narayan (10 October 1906 – 13 May 2001), full name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, was an Indian writer known for his works set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a great addition to this A-Z, Mukhamani. I have heard of his famous book, ‘The English Teacher’, but I have yet to read any of his series of novels. Thanks for playing along, it is much appreciated.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ‘The Railway Children’ was one of my favourites, too 🙂 So, since you’ve already claimed it, I’ll be adult today and choose ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel – a child’s eye view of Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great list once gain, Pete. I am a huge fan of Jo Nesbo, and his series of Harry Hole thrillers are terrific reads….they begin with “The Bat”, but “Nemesis” is where the series really takes off….

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I also read ‘Naked and the Dead’ when I was young – great book. My titles for today: S.KIng’s “Needful Things” and “Nightmares and Dreamscapes.” “Night Over Water” by Ken Follet and “The Navigator” by C.Cussler.
    Have a great day, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Letter N, let me see:

    The Time Traveler’s wife – Audrey Niffeneger
    I Like You Just because – Albert Nimeth
    The Life And Prayers of Padre Pio – Wyatt North
    The Dance of Life – Henri Nouwen
    The Only Necessary Things – Henri Nouwen
    Reading Lolita In Tehran – Azar Nafisi
    Irish Blessings – Kitty Nash
    These are mostly religious books except that of Niffineger and Nafisi

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Only non-fiction today….”New Iraq” by Joseph Braude….”National Security For A New Age” by Donald Snow…..”North Africa” by Philip Naylor and “New Class Politics” by William Cannon….now coffee not a book but a good idea…LOL chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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