Animal Farm (George Orwell)

Written between November 1943 and February 1944, but not published straightaway, because of the USSR’s status as an ally in the Second World War. Orwell was a socialist writer, so the fact that he chose to do such a savage critique of the Soviet Union may come as a bit of a surprise to the present-day reader. One might have expected him to choose the far right, rather than the far left. But he personally felt that Soviet Russia had itself become a brutal dictatorship, and that its original ideals had become perverted. I personally don’t believe any of the original Bolshevik leaders who overthrew the Tsar had any ‘ideals’ other than a brutal, bloody dictatorship that would impoverish the majority of its citizens. And so it proved! Socialism can only work in a racially homogenous nation with no ethnic Trojan horses. (Scandinavia in the 1960s probably came closest to the Socialist ideal) [Read more…]

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Thomas Hughes)

book-coverUnless you’re an Anglophile, you might prefer watching one of the dramatizations of this story. The films tend to have more plot than the book, which is more a series of chronological anecdotes set amidst statements of philosophy than it is a novel. “Character” and “fair play” are much emphasized but remain fuzzy concepts, which rather deflates its moral purpose. Jolly great fun is had by chucking stones at Irish labourers and otherwise tormenting the lower classes. “Fagging”–the practice of young boys having to fetch and carry for the older boys (and yes, that’s where the word comes from)– is an accepted and honoured institution.  [Read more…]

The Day Of The Triffids (John Wyndham)

john-wyndham-book-coverThis is a sober book. I can imagine a dozen or so world leaders I’d hope would read it and discuss such in tandem over tea and crumpets. Or whatever Mr Trump feels like having today. Gauging our current run of apprehensions, one would be wise to explore this gem of the dystopian curve. Day of the Triffids is a meditation. There is no epic effort to capture the tooth and claw survival of the species. What occurs is both more subtle and sinister. The world as understood is over. JW was quite keen on destroying civilization in his novels. [Read more…]

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

darknessLegendary novella by a Ukrainian-born British subject. He took a fateful steamship voyage into the deepest jungles of Africa, an experience which forever changed him and this literary classic was the result. Marlow, the seaman narrator, tells the story of his journey into the heart of the African interior and his encounter with the natives and most notably, Kurtz, the ivory agent, a much revered white man. To me, the journey into the heart of darkness is the unraveling of what is inscrutably at the core of human nature. [Read more…]

The Circus Of Dr Lao (Charles G Finney)

circus-of-dr-laoThis is a truly extraordinary short novel. It packs into its 150 page length more commentary on human nature in both its sad and wonderful aspects than many authors would struggle to depict through vast volumes of work. I believe that in a just world this book would be considered among the paragons of American letters. Right up there with free-thinking luminaries like Mark Twain, who Finney indeed often calls to my mind while reading this. [Read more…]

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

dorian-grayFrom Wilde’s shockingly outrageous preface to the fantastic conclusion there is a sense of beauty and exploration in this unique piece of prose. Touching on subjects that were taboo at the time of writing, he had to be subtle. Dorian’s exploration into the world of pleasure is filled with numerous metaphors for risqué acts. Both Dorian and the novel turn strange. You’d think the life of a young handsome sensualist would consist of orgies and opium, but Gray is more obsessed with perfumes, tapestries, jewels and world music. Don’t ask why. [Read more…]

The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

moonstoneThis book was first published in 1868 and is often considered to be the first whodunnit novel. It’s the story of the theft of a precious and cursed Indian diamond, the Moonstone, from the room of a young lady, Rachel Verinder, on the very day she inherited it. I found it an enjoyable book. Very easy to read despite its age. [Read more…]

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