January 2009

Found this on the Daily Telegraph web site: I’ll edit it later to put in the one’s I’ve read. This should become a FaceBook game!

100 novels everyone should read

100 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

WH Auden thought this tale of fantastic creatures looking for lost jewellery was a “masterpiece”.

99 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A child’s-eye view of racial prejudice and freaky neighbours in Thirties Alabama.

98 The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

A rich Bengali noble lives happily until a radical revolutionary appears.

97 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Earth is demolished to make way for a Hyperspatial Express Route. Don’t panic.

96 One Thousand and One Nights Anon

A Persian king’s new bride tells tales to stall post-coital execution.

95 The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Werther loves Charlotte, but she’s already engaged. Woe is he!

94 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The children of poor Hindus and wealthy Muslims are switched at birth.

93 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Nursery rhyme provides the code names for British spies suspected of treason.

92 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Hilarious satire on doom-laden rural romances. “Something nasty” has been observed in the woodshed.

91 The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki

The life and loves of an emperor’s son. And the world’s first novel?

90 Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

A feckless writer has dealings with a canine movie star. Comedy and philosophy combined.

89 The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Lessing considers communism and women’s liberation in what Margaret Drabble calls “inner space fiction”.

88 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Passion, poetry and pistols in this verse novel of thwarted love.

87 On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Beat generation boys aim to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles”.

86 Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

A disillusioning dose of Bourbon Restoration realism. The anti-hero “Rastingnac” became a byword for ruthless social climbing.

85 The Red and the Black by Stendhal

Plebian hero struggles against the materialism and hypocrisy of French society with his “force d’ame”.

84 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

“One for all and all for one”: the eponymous swashbucklers battle the mysterious Milady.

83 Germinal by Emile Zola

Written to “germinate” social change, Germinal unflinchingly documents the starvation of French miners.

82 The Stranger by Albert Camus

Frenchman kills an Arab friend in Algiers and accepts “the gentle indifference of the world”.

81The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Illuminating historical whodunnit set in a 14th-century Italian monastry.

80 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

An Australian heiress bets an Anglican priest he can’t move a glass church 400km.

79 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Prequel to Jane Eyre giving moving, human voice to the mad woman in the attic.

78 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Carroll’s ludic logic makes it possible to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

77 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Yossarian feels a homicidal impulse to machine gun total strangers. Isn’t that crazy?

76 The Trial by Franz Kafka

K proclaims he’s innocent when unexpectedly arrested. But “innocent of what”?

75 Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

Protagonist’s “first long secret drink of golden fire” is under a hay wagon.

74 Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan

Gentle comedy in which a Gandhi-inspired Indian youth becomes an anti-British extremist.

73 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque

The horror of the Great War as seen by a teenage soldier.

72 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Three siblings are differently affected by their parents’ unexplained separation.

71 The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

Profound and panoramic insight into 18th-century Chinese society.

70 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Garibaldi’s Redshirts sweep through Sicily, the “jackals” ousting the nobility, or “leopards”.

69 If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

International book fraud is exposed in this playful postmodernist puzzle.

68 Crash by JG Ballard

Former TV scientist preaches “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology”.

67 A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul

East African Indian Salim travels to the heart of Africa and finds “The world is what it is.”

66 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.

65 Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Romantic young doctor’s idealism is trampled by the atrocities of the Russian Revolution.

64 The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz

Follows three generations of Cairenes from the First World War to the coup of 1952.

63 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s “bogey tale” came to him in a dream.

62 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Swift’s scribulous satire on travellers’ tall tales (the Lilliputian Court is really George I’s).

61 My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

A painter is murdered in Istanbul in 1591. Unusually, we hear from the corpse.

60 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Myth and reality melt magically together in this Colombian family saga.

59 London Fields by Martin Amis

A failed novelist steals a woman’s trashed diaries which reveal she’s plotting her own murder.

58 The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Gang of South American poets travel the world, sleep around, challenge critics to duels.

57 The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

Intellectuals withdraw from life to play a game of musical and mathematical rules.

56 The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

Madhouse memories of the Second World War. Key text of European magic realism.

55 Austerlitz by WG Sebald

Paragraph-less novel in which a Czech-born historian traces his own history back to the Holocaust.

54 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Scholar’s sexual obsession with a prepubescent “nymphet” is complicated by her mother’s passion for him.

53 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

After nuclear war has rendered most sterile, fertile women are enslaved for breeding.

52 The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Expelled from a “phony” prep school, adolescent anti-hero goes through a difficult phase.

51 Underworld by Don DeLillo

From baseball to nuclear waste, all late-20th-century American life is here.

50 Beloved by Toni Morrison

Brutal, haunting, jazz-inflected journey down the darkest narrative rivers of American slavery.

49 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“Okies” set out from the Depression dustbowl seeking decent wages and dignity.

48 Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Explores the role of the Christian Church in Harlem’s African-American community.

47The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

A doctor’s infidelities distress his wife. But if life means nothing, it can’t matter.

46 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

A meddling teacher is betrayed by a favourite pupil who becomes a nun.

45 The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Did the watch salesman kill the girl on the beach. If so, who heard?

44 Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

A historian becomes increasingly sickened by his existence, but decides to muddle on.

43 The Rabbit books by John Updike

A former high school basketball star is unsatisfied by marriage, fatherhood and sales jobs.

42 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A boy and a runaway slave set sail on the Mississippi, away from Antebellum “sivilisation”.

41 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.

40 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Lily Bart craves luxury too much to marry for love. Scandal and sleeping pills ensue.

39 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

A Nigerian yam farmer’s local leadership is shaken by accidental death and a missionary’s arrival.

38The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

A mysterious millionaire’s love for a woman with “a voice full of money” gets him in trouble.

37 The Warden by Anthony Trollope

“Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money,” said W H Auden.

36 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

An ex-convict struggles to become a force for good, but it ends badly.

35 Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

An uncommitted history lecturer clashes with his pompous boss, gets drunk and gets the girl.

34 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts” in this hardboiled crime noir.

33 Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

Epistolary adventure whose heroine’s bodice is savagely unlaced by the brothel-keeping Robert Lovelace.

32 A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

Twelve-book saga whose most celebrated character wears “the wrong kind of overcoat”.

31 Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

Published 60 years after their author was gassed, these two novellas portray city and village life in Nazi-occupied France.

30 Atonement by Ian McEwan

Puts the “c” word in the classic English country house novel.

29 Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec

The jigsaw puzzle of lives in a Parisian apartment block. Plus empty rooms.

28 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Thigh-thwacking yarn of a foundling boy sewing his wild oats before marrying the girl next door.

27 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Human endeavours “to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” have tragic consequences.

26 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Northern villagers turn their bonnets against the social changes accompanying the industrial revolution.

25 The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Hailed by T S Eliot as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels”.

24 Ulysses by James Joyce

Modernist masterpiece reworking of Homer with humour. Contains one of the longest “sentences” in English literature: 4,391 words.

23 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Buying the lies of romance novels leads a provincial doctor’s wife to an agonising end.

22 A Passage to India by EM Forster

A false accusation exposes the racist oppression of British rule in India.

21 1984 by George Orwell

In which Big Brother is even more sinister than the TV series it inspired.

20 Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Samuel Johnson thought Sterne’s bawdy, experimental novel was too odd to last. Pah!

19 The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

Bloodsucking Martian invaders are wiped out by a dose of the sniffles.

18 Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

Waugh based the hapless junior reporter in this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.

17 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Sexual double standards are held up to the cold, Wessex light in this rural tragedy.

16 Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

A seaside sociopath mucks up murder and marriage in Greene’s literary Punch and Judy show.

15 The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse

A scrape-prone toff and pals are suavely manipulated by his gentleman’s personal gentleman.

14 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Out on the winding, windy moors Cathy and Heathcliff become each other’s “souls”. Then he storms off.

13 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Debt and deception in Dickens’s semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman crammed with cads, creeps and capital fellows.

12 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

A slave trader is shipwrecked but finds God, and a native to convert, on a desert island.

11 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Every proud posh boy deserves a prejudiced girl. And a stately pile.

10 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Picaresque tale about quinquagenarian gent on a skinny horse tilting at windmills.

9 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Septimus’s suicide doesn’t spoil our heroine’s stream-of-consciousness party.

8 Disgrace by JM Coetzee

An English professor in post-apartheid South Africa loses everything after seducing a student.

7 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Poor and obscure and plain as she is, Mr Rochester wants to marry her. Illegally.

6 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Seven-volume meditation on memory, featuring literature’s most celebrated lemony cake.

5 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

“The conquest of the earth,” said Conrad, “is not a pretty thing.”

4 The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

An American heiress in Europe “affronts her destiny” by marrying an adulterous egoist.

3 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s doomed adulteress grew from a daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow”.

2 Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Monomaniacal Captain Ahab seeks vengeance on the white whale which ate his leg.

1 Middlemarch by George Eliot

“One of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” said Virginia Woolf.

Saturday was our last day in London, before we headed down to Tonbridge to spend some time with Jan. It became the great day of overdoing things, as we has left the V&A and Tate Britain until the last day and had then booked a concert at St Martin’s-in-the-Field at 7.30.

This was all daft as you could spend a week in each place and still not set around – and, like every other museum and gallery in Britain, there were new galleries planned (medieval). The Tsars exhibition was on and we has a good look at that, but for me the showstoppers were the Elizabethan galleries and the newly restored Hereford Cathedral screen, Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece. In the end we just had to leave: there was just too much and I had promised myself some time at least in the Tate Britain.

We wandered through Knightsbridge, amazed at Harrod’s Foodhall, the so-called sale prices on their menswear and the sheer bad taste of the Diana and Dodi memorial. A quick bite and we wandered through Westminster towards the Tate.

I probably would have been happy to look at the 19th Century stuff all day, but Paula came with gallery back, which is hardly surprising when you consider the load we lugged from place to place in Europe. I modified my usual obsessive-compulsive approach and we selected some good bits. Notwithstanding the many things that Paula and I agree on, there are interesting anomalies, and visual arts produces most of these. We have some very distinct differences in taste! This does not mean the end of marriage – just a new area for discussion…

The concert, a very simple program of Handel and Mozart, was a perfect conclusion to our wanderings. Investigating the church’s new East window produced a Francis Thompson poem I did not know to be saved up for use some day. The full house was an indication of the continuing function of the church, as was the crypt, with its cafe, shop, function areas and chapel.

We collapsed to bed after a late supper. The weather overnight had been dreadful – our first really bad weather of the trip, if you discount the Paris blizzard. Mass at Brompton Oratory was an eye-opener: very formal but only 80 people in the massive building.

We made it to Tonbridge early and Jan gave us lunch and a walk in Ashdown Forest before we has dinner with Fiona and her partner John, as well as two very amusing friends of Jan (John and Monica). It was a great dinner party and we heard lots about art, car restoration and British concerns about the economy.

Jan had a lecture to attend the next morning, which allowed us some time to figure out the complexities of packing bags within weight restrictions.

Strictly, this should be two separate entries: one for the show on Thursday night (15 Jan) and one for Friday’s walks; but they all seem to me part of one large portrait of London. I think perhaps Londoners underestimate the attractions of their capital city and its endless diversions; and it starts one considering how one sees one’s own city.

Any visitor to Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the nights we were there can’t fail to be amazed by the theatre scene in London. The sheer volume of people on the Tube is quite remarkable and the life of the West End throbs with an energy that is unfamiliar to Paula and me, afficionados of the Sydney arts as we are.

It’s very easy to be critical of your home and terribly adolescent – one learns nothing from trying to compare cultures and cities except at the superficial level we essayed last night. Unless you live, eat and work in a place, you don’t have the reality of the experience: the best you can so is listen to the stories of the locals. It’s one reason that I have always wanted to do an exchange, and why Paula and I would love to spend a month in a Paris appartment, shopping in the markets and seeing life arsteeer levels.

That being said, one is very sympathetic with the Australian diaspora of the Sixties and Seventies and their failure to return home. Who can deny them the right to strut a larger stage, as it’s only the Blanchets of this world that flit across continents cultures with any ease.

Les Mis has been running for fifteen years and has changed cast and venue, but still has energy and freshness. I thought the Australian cast was impressive but this crew was close behind, especially the Valjean, whose acting and singing were outstanding. The show retains its power to move and inspire, because we all need redemption.

So it was with a degree of inspiration that we set out Friday, determined to see London at street level. We started at the Museum of London, planted on the Aldgate Walls and a hundred metres from the site of Wesley’s conversion. Half the museum is closed, but even the section that goes from God to the Great Fire takes a couple of hours.

It’s hard even now to describe the three hours we spent walking through the City. On the one hand, we might have learned more with a guide; on the other, exploring on your own has advantages. St Mary-le-Bow has Arthur Philips memorial, a badge and flag from the Order of Australia..

We ended up at St Katherine’s Dock, resisting the temptation to museate (six) through the Tower and the Bridge. We had thought to “do” the V & A after dinner, but a bottle of wine with Ebbie and Baby Scarlett, joined by Robert after work, put paid to that. Hay’s Dock made enough for one day. Tomorrow will be busy.

This is the first entry for two days: I didn’t tell the story of the trip from Avignon, but the new TVGs are something that you have to experience for yourself. Seeing a whole country go past in a flash is pretty memorable.

The trip was pretty easy – we have it down pat on the trains. Our hotel is great, although we changed rooms today after we told them that the carpet outside our room smelt like a politician had thrown up and died. There are about twenty restaurants and pubs within walking distance, along with the museums, Kensington Palace and Brompton Oratory.

Today was a very different day: shopping in the sales and arranging some evening entertainment. Our theatre review of Les Miserables will have to wait, however: in honour of a great day just being in London, we present a special entry:


1. A pedestrian crossing means a pedestrian crossing, not an opportunity to get bonus points hitting tourists.

2. A congestion tax means never having to reduce your car to rubble to get parking.

3. Opening doors on trains are an indication that others need to get off before you get on, not vice versa.

4. Public toilets should be free and clean and not run by disaffected and unemployed prison warders.

5. The are differences between male and female and these are best celebrated by providing separate toilet facilities.

6. Not all female shop assistants need to be size 6 and under and treat all other sizes with disdain.

7. Sales/Soldes generally mean that there are things that you want to buy that are cheaper (and bigger than a size 6).

8. French reserve is good, but English friendliness is better.

9. Beer

10. Pubs

Not that we don’t love Paris and the French, it’s just that London has both familiarity and variety, enough to keep appealing to visitors for a long time.

This was a funny day and unfortunately Paula’s email was the perfect summary. As I claim some contributory rights, I am going to quote it here as soon as we get back – I really could use a cut-and-paste function on the iPhone.

The photos below are typical of the day: the bridge, finding a French version of Games Workshop for Dom, and rejoicing in the fact that French hardware stores are “bricollages”. Roland Barthes and the post-modernists, eat your hearts out.



Hi all,
Had to share our story of our last real day in France in a place called Nimes  pronounced Nima by the French) . We are staying in Avignon and had wanted to do a day trip to see the Roman arena in Nimes as well as other historical sites. It Is a 30 min train ride from Avignon and so  armed with our 8 Euro each return train ticket we set off.

We noticed upon arrival that the guts of the main roads were being ripped up to install a tramway making navigation around the main square difficult. In the distance we could spot the arena and headed towards it. Our attention was diverted by a gathering of people outside the Palais de Justice blowing whistles and yelling out slogans which Chris deduced to be the French version of “the workers united wil never be divided”. Closer inspection of the gathering revealed Municipal Police chained  together protesting about poor pay and conditions.

Being long term residents of NSW we took this in our stride and returned to our mission. The arena is not hard to
miss but the Tourist office is- it had been demolished. We took cursory shots of the exterior and looked suitably impressed at the outline of the long demolished Roman Walls.

We continued walking around searching for the entrance. On the other side, we noticed another protest or was it a gathering of protests. Initially, Chris thought it was the Young Communist Tea Towel collecting convention. But no!! We had struck a handy confluence between the population of Nimes- who had decided that they really hated the Maire (Mayor) – and the pro Palestinians for whom any demonstration is a good demonstration. These groups were being overseen by some very enthusiastic Gendarmes (National Police) strutting their stuff in their action man uniforms.

Not deterred by our inability to escape from the square, we returned to our original mission, only to discover that the Arena visits office had gone out in sympathy. We looked in vain for a scab centurian willing to cross the picket line to let us in but to no avail.

We then spied what we thought was an ancient ecclesiastical monument ( Carholic church) knowing that they would never go out in sympathy with the angry mob, alas it turned out to be a cheap 19th century copy of no particular style. It wasn’t even called Notre Dame!

As we turned out of the church h a d Protest 1 and the light dawned, chained to the fence in all their day glo glory was the entire municipal Police force who had decided to hate the mayor from a completely different direction.

Feeling totally defeated, we made an ANZAC style withdrawal from Nimes and in the grand Aussie tradition, found an Irish pub in  Avignon to drown our sorrows and remember better days in France.

Love Paula and Chris

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