On the home stretch now, with ‘T’. Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and please continue to do so. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with a ‘T’.
As a teenager, I bought a book about WW2, by the Australian writer, Eric Lambert. It was ‘The Twenty Thousand Thieves’, a novel about Australian soldiers serving in the desert campaign, published in 1951. This was one of the most convincing and impressive books I had ever read about what it felt like to be a soldier at war, and I read it again, some years later. I can still remember parts of it now, and it has rested at the back of my mind for all those years. It tells the story of the Australian Imperial Force, from the training camps thorough to the fighting at Tobruk. It is a ‘warts and all story’, with no detail spared, however harsh or unpleasant. Tough soldiers, doing a difficult job, and living hard as they did so. Unforgettable.
When I was still very young, I was captivated by Mark Twain’s book, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’. This introduced me to the fictional life of young people in 19th century America, with their adventures and antics wonderfully detailed. The characters of Tom, his friend Huckleberry Finn, and Becky Sawyer, the girl Tom loves, are all lovingly fleshed out by Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) and the reader is swept along with their everyday lives, and simple pleasures.
Patricia Highsmith once again, and a cracking thriller, ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’. This 1955 novel is full of delightful twists and turns, as well as exploring the inner darkness of the title character, Tom Ripley. The avaricious and insanely jealous Ripley will stop at nothing to assume the privileged lifestyle of his supposed friend, Dickie Greenleaf. The details of the deception and double life of Ripley are expertly handled by Highsmith, and the pace is just right too. One criticism is that it may be hard to really warm to any of the shallow characters involved, but that does not detract from the sense that you are reading a novel of superb construction, inhabited by people who are all-too believable.
There is a very good film adaptation too, starring Matt Damon and Jude Law.
American writer Robin Cook is well known for writing compelling thrillers that mostly have medical themes. His 1993 novel, ‘Terminal’, is no exception, examining the progress in the science of biotechnology, set around the arrival of a new doctor seeking to work on research at a famous institute. Cook throws much into the mix. Someone is killing off patients, unscrupulous doctors are seeking to protect their investments at all costs, and there are settings around the world, as well as the theft of organs. It’s a real whirlwind of a book, that may require you to suspend belief at times. But it is as enjoyable as many of Cook’s other novels, and makes a great holiday read.
If I say ‘Long John Silver’, most people will immediately know that I am talking about the book ‘Treasure Island’. Such is the enduring nature of this novel from Robert Louis Stevenson, that just a mention of one of the characters can conjure up a vision of the whole book. This stirring tale of pirates, buried treasure, parrots on shoulders, and exotic far-off islands has become the definitive tale of the pirates of old. Rich in period detail and with masterful characterisation, Stevenson’s 1881 book transports the reader back to the dangerous seas of the early 18th century, the adventures of Jim Hawkins, and the people he encounters on his travels. Wonderful stuff, and it never ages.
Leaving you with much to explore, my top choice today is the unusual historical novel from Gunter Grass, ‘The Tin Drum’. Published in 1959, it looks back to the rise of the Nazis before WW2, and on through that war, to the aftermath. In the city of Danzig, young Oskar is born. But he is born with the immediate talent to think and understand as an adult. As a consequence, he decides that he will never grow up, preferring to stay as a child. He has another talent too. His voice has the ability to manage a piercing shriek, one that can shatter glass, in all directions. On his third birthday, he receives a tin drum, and becomes obsessed with it, carrying it everywhere. As each drum is worn out by his drumming, it is replaced with an identical one, and this carries on throughout his life. Despite retaining his child-like stature, Oskar develops mentally, and soon has love affairs, eventually becoming involved with the Nazis too. This novel is simply unique, and because of that it is hard to categorise, or to fully explain the long and detailed events. It is considered to be an allegory by some, but I would just recommend it as a fascinating literary experience that has few equals.
In 1979 it was made into an excellent film which perfectly captured the spirit of the book, as well as most of the events. I recommend that too, without reservation.