Oh no! ‘X’ is next…
Please continue to add your own choices and suggestions. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘W’.
I am starting with a look at the work of the English writer H.G. Wells. Another author who displayed a great talent for prescience, his writing predicted the advent of bombing from the air, genetic manipulation, and even space travel. Most English speakers will have read at least one of his books in their lifetime, or seen one of the numerous film adaptations. Even if they have not, they will surely have heard of this famous writer, and his influence on the genre of Science Fiction. He also wrote tales of everyday life, and the adventures of ordinary people, as in ‘The History of Mr Polly’. But he will be best known for his vision of an alien invasion, in ‘War of The Worlds’, space travel in ‘The First Men on The Moon’, or the bleak dystopian future of ‘The Shape of Things To Come’. If you have never read any of his books, I urge you to do so. And if you do, keep reminding yourself how long ago they were published.
As I have covered a novel by Oscar Wilde previously, I will only mention him here in passing. I couldn’t let ‘W’ pass, without saying once again what a wonderful writer he was.
‘The Wind In The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame was published in 1908. This delightful children’s book is still as popular today as it was at the time, and will no doubt endure for centuries to come. Later editions benefited from the wonderful illustrations by Arthur Rackham, and it was such a volume I owned as a child. (I wish I still had that.) The unforgettable characters in this book include Mr Toad, a wealthy amphibian who lives in the grand Toad Hall and drives his own car, as well as Rat, Mole, and Badger. They get up to all sorts of adventures in the somewhat idyllic countryside of Edwardian England, and they even have baddies to deal with, in the shape of The Weasels. These stories never age, and remain a joy to read.
I have only read one novel in ‘The Wimbledon Trilogy’ by Nigel Williams. As I once lived in that district, I was attracted by the title, ‘The Wimbledon Poisoner’ (1990). I discovered an entertaining and amusing book, telling the story of the unfortunate Henry Farr, a man unhappy with his life, and especially with his wife, who he decides to poison. His effort misfires, and sets in motion a chain of events he was totally unprepared for. In case anyone wants to read it, I will not add any more details of the plot, but can recommend this as a worthwhile read.
Around the same time, I was aware of an award-winning book, about the story of a Chinese woman, her mother, and her grandmother. As I had rarely read so many positive reviews of a book, I decided to get a copy, and see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t disappointed. ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang looks at the life of one family over the span of one hundred years from a female perspective, and is both biographical, and autobiographical. It is also unforgettable. From the life in China at the time of the Warlords and concubines, through the war and civil war that led to the rise of Mao and the communists, this story weaves the fate of one family alongside the events that formed a modern nation. It comes up to date with the writer’s own experiences; The Cultural Revolution, The Red Guards, banishment to the countryside, and her eventual move to England. Moving, fascinating, and a personal view of turbulent times in modern history.
My top pick today is an uncomfortable but unforgettable novel by Iain Banks, ‘The Wasp factory’, published in 1984. This was his first published book, and what a way to start. It is the disturbing tale of the psychopathic teenager, Frank, who lives on a remote Scottish island. He tells his own story as events unfold, and this perspective makes it all the more chilling to read. As a young child, Frank spends his time making weapons. Catapults, flame-throwers, even rudimentary bombs. He also begins to live by a set of compulsive rituals and habits, and uses his weapons to kill a variety of small animals. But Frank also tells the reader that he has killed small children when still very young himself, and exposes the even darker side of the story to come.
Make no mistake, this is a difficult book to read. There are depictions of violence to animals, unpleasant experiments, and some gruesome details on the pages. But it is never less than fascinating, and alongside Frank, there are other memorable characters to explore as the story progresses.