Much of what I like about reading is thus: creating characters in my head; assigning them a hair colour, a height, flushed cheeks, plumped lips. When I began reading Revolutionary Road, however, all that had already been done for me. April and Frank Wheeler weren’t faceless names that I was to bring to life; they had already taken form. While I hadn’t watched the screen adaptation of Revolutionary Road, I hadn’t been able to miss the publicity surrounding it and consequently April Wheeler bore Kate Winslet’s beautiful symmetry; Frank Wheeler possessed Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish good looks.
Described by The Sunday Telegraph as ‘one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century’, Richard Yates demonstrates his ability to turn the banal into the extraordinary in his first published novel.
Following the lives of Frank and Alice Wheeler, a suburban couple in 1950s America, Revolutionary Road explores themes of boredom and excitement, of fear and of bravery. Having found themselves stuck in a metaphoric rut, the Wheelers decide to risk it all for a fresh start in Europe, a move they believe will be the start of a life, rather than a mere existence. So caught up do they become in their plans, however, that their sense of reality is lost to bitter rows, infidelity and a consequent tragedy that sees them pay the ultimate price.
A beautifully written book, Revolutionary Road captures a bygone time with a moving plot and tightly crafted characters whose aspirations remain relevant half-a-century on from it’s first publication. With a climatic twist at the end, thus becomes apparent: be careful what you wish for.
I happened across Catcher in the Rye at my Uncle’s house in Yorkshire in November 2010. I picked three or four books up by Daphne Du Maurier and then decided to add an extra tome to pile for good measure. Its name was familiar due to JD Salinger’s death earlier in the year and the book’s place in the Top 100 BBC Reads. I like nothing better than curling up with a good book on a long train journey and so I saved it for my trip back to Reading from York, and two-and-a-half hours later I was both nearing the end absolutely enthralled.
There is nothing spectacular about this book; there is no epic plot like in Gone with the Wind, no sinister undertones so associated with Rebecca. It is a mere two hundred-or-so pages long. Despite all this, however, it’s without question one of the best and most gripping books I’ve ever read. The protagonist, despite his crude language, is amiable and charming and the book leaves you wanting to follow him through more of his escapades on his journey through adolescence. There is much controversy surrounding Catcher in the Rye; indeed Mark Chapman, convicted of John Lennon’s assassination, had the book on him at the time of the murder and was said to be ‘obsessed’ with the text. A teacher in America was also sacked for using it in a literature syllabus. However, fifty years on from its original publication, the frequent use of “goddamn” and “motherfucker” – which cause much outcry at the time, would, I imagine, have little affect on today’s reader. That it was banned and censored a number of times in its history perhapds only added to the notoriety and fame so associated with J D Salinger’s best loved book.
Coming from someone whose favourite writers, prior to working my way through the BBC Top 100, have tended to be women, I can now say that JD Salinger is up there with the best of them. Catcher in the Rye is an absolutely captivating book.
I am the first to admit my tendency to being slightly over emotional (I can hear my step father guffaw with laughter into his coffee at the irony of this statement). I cry. A lot. When I like something, everyone will know about it. And I would like to think that if you happen to come across someone on the tube reading Margaret Mitchell’s only published book, that it may well be down to them having been force fed this book by yours truly.
I had recently begun working my way through the Top 100 BBC Reads when I was at my friend Kim’s house, just before Christmas 2009. Her parents, Colin and Lesley are both avid readers like myself, and when, scanning their bookshelves I asked for a recommendation, Lesley handed me Gone With The Wind. It was a thick brick of a book – over a thousand pages, and I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of tackling such a long book over the festive period.
How wrong I was. And how I shall ever be indebted to Lesley for lending it to me. It was perhaps a hundred or so pages into Gone With The Wind that I really fell for this epic tale; and from then on in, I never wanted it to end.
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, the hero and heroine of the book are so full of life and their complex relationship is without question the single favourite I have ever come across in the many hundreds of books I have read. My boyfriend at the time paled in comparison to Rhett Butler, whose wit and charm had me, quite literally, swooning.
And alongside this epic romance is a very real war and an intense plot that deals with death, racial discrimination, and triumph over adversity. Gone With The Wind literally took my breath away (no pun intended) and it is, without question, my very favourite book of all time.
I can still remember exactly where I was when I bought Nicci French’s Killing Me Softly. I was on a day trip to Brighton when I was fourteen with a boy called Laurence who took me to Snooper’s Paradise, the North Laine’s indoor flea market with bric-a-bac galore.
I briefly rummaged through the stalls of Victorian clothing and admired the array of art deco pieces available to buy before finding myself in a cubby hole of dog eared books; the type of place that I could happily spend an entire afternoon. The title of Killing Me Softly captured my imagination and the gothic front cover had me hook, line and sinker.
It wasn’t until a year or so later that I got around to reading Killing Me Softly, shortly after which I began working my way through Nicci French’s entire published collection – a feat I still continue with today.
Intricate, thrilling and sinister, Killing Me Softly tells the story of Alice Loudon, a thirty-something Londoner who has it all until she meets tall, dark and handsome Adam Tallis, with whom she starts a reckless, but passionate affair. The plot thickens as their relationship becomes all-consuming and tumultuous and the climatic twist at the end finishes the novel perfectly.
So enraptured was I with this book that for months on end I force fed it onto anyone that happened to have a vague interest in reading. Some books you can read a hundred times, yet never be able to recall anything of validity; others you can read just once and forever remember the most intricate details; the most intimate scenes. Killing Me Softly is of the latter kind. It remains one of my all time favourite books and is deliciously dark and sinister.