Today, it’s the turn of Adèle Geras to tell us about her five favourites.
Is there a woman writer of a certain age who won’t have LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott among her favourites? I don’t think so. They generally love the book because of Jo, and her burning ambition to be a writer, but for me the attraction was more the four sisters living together through good times and bad and getting irritated with one another but still remaining loving throughout. I am an only child and this book paints a portrait of life with siblings that felt magical to me when I was very young and still does.
TALES OF TROY by Andrew Lang. This book was given to me in 1951 when I was 7. It has coloured my entire life. It’s the story of the Trojan War with the most beautiful illustrations by H.J. Ford. I knew whole passages of it by heart by the time I was 8. It was the beginning of my love affair with the legends and stories of Ancient Greece and then later, Rome. But this was the start of it and I still have the book on my shelves. It’s been a huge inspiration to me, leading directly, I think to my own books set in Ancient Greece: TROY, ITHAKA and DIDO.
THE MALORY TOWERS series by Enid Blyton. I had to re- read one of these books about twenty years ago for a conference at which I spoke about them. And I was shocked to discover that (unlike Little Women and Tales of Troy) they did not stand up to adult scrutiny. They struck me as paper thin, rather shoddily written and clichéd in every way. But….but but but. I loved them with a passion as a child, and this passion didn’t dim when I went to boarding school myself and found it to be not a bit like Malory Towers. Blyton has created a world that swallows up young girls and transports them. She fills it with characters who are readily identifiable and when I was about 8, this was so enchanting that I hold the world the books made in my head quite separately from the rather thin gruel of the actual text. That is Blyton’s magic. She created more readers than anyone before or since, except for J. K. Rowling.
BALLET SHOES by Noel Streatfeild. Oh, my goodness how I adored this book! I’ve also read it as an adult and it’s just as good as it ever was because Streatfeild was such a wonderful writer. Here again we have siblings, albeit not birth siblings but three girls collected by an eccentric explorer with a kind heart. The whole set up struck me as thrilling. The grown ups were amazing: different from most other grown ups in books. They were bohemian and strange and did unexpected things. And the dramas of the ballet classes and the fact that one of the sisters went on to become a pilot…it was, in every way, a brilliant wish -fulfilment book and also beautifully written. When I first read it I was determined to be a STAR and I identified with that side of the novel completely.
Nowadays, we have box sets. Back in the late 50s and early 60s we had series of books. I loved John Galsworthy’s FORSYTE saga
but mostly at school the books that kept us going, that we passed around the class, discussing every turn and twist of the plots till we were blue in the face, the books that preoccupied us most were the WHITEOAKS
books by Mazo de la Roche. They were set in Canada and the house the Whiteoaks family lived in was called Jalna. I can’t now recall how many books there were but they seemed never to stop. My own favourite character was Rennie, who was a dangerously attractive red-headed man and RENNIE’S DAUGHTER
was my favourite of the series, though I also loved FINCH’S FORTUNE.
Finch was the pale, rather more weedy and intellectual brother of Rennie, if I remember correctly. These books were, in the words of my elder daughter: heaven on a stick.
Big house, slightly tyrannical matriach, lots of different siblings and assorted in – laws. Difficult children. And lots of romantic sexual simmerings. Fabulous stuff! I have never revisited these books. I daren’t…I want the spell to be unbroken. I doubt if anyone under 60 will ever have heard of Mazo de la Roche. Sic transit gloria…