As part of the Neptune’s Tears blog tour, Susan Waggoner has written a guest post for us about her top 10 books…
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Has anyone ever written a better portrait of childhood? We meet the heroine, Maggie Tulliver, when she is very young and not very perfect. She is the girl whose drab hair doesn’t curl (unlike her blonde and perfectly ringleted cousin Lucy Dean) and whose dress is always a bit rumpled and muddy from wading in the stream. Anyone who has ever felt unfairly judged and criticised by the adult world will identify with Maggie. Her growth into an intelligent, sensitive and ultimately self-sacrificing young woman is completely unforgettable.
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
This novel starts in the early 1900s on a snowbound train with a 16-year-old girl travelling from Boston to live with her uncle in Canada. She soon meets a drop-dead gorgeous Mountie, marries him and follows him to the northern territories. Sound improbable? It’s based on a true story! I first read this book when I was 11 or 12. It was the most romantic story I’d ever read and the first in which death and real hardships played a role in the main characters’ lives. It is still my favourite comfort book and I will never be without a copy.
The Makioka Sisters; Junichiro Tanizaki
Although this is a story about ordinary life, it is nevertheless a great book which I believe can hold it’s own against epics like War and Peace and tragedies like Madame Bovary. The main characters are four adult sisters in a once wealthy Osaka family on the eve of World War II. The eldest two sisters are married and the youngest sister would like to marry. The only problem is the third sister who, according to tradition, must marry before the youngest. However, she has unfortunately rejected every offer that’s ever come her way. The main action of the book therefore revolves around finding a suitable match for her. The Makioka Sisters is a beautiful and evocative portrait of the classic Japanese lifestyle that is soon to be erased by the war.
The Great Gatsby; F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors. He possesses one of the most graceful writing styles in history and was the definitive chronicler of the Jazz Age. I love this story because it embodies the oh-so-American themes of ambition, longing, achievement and dissatisfaction. For all his wealth, Gatsby cannot have what he wants most and the story of his failed love for wealthy socialite Daisy Buchanan is a haunting metaphor for much that is the American experience. A new Baz Lurhmann movie version, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, is coming out around Christmas. Do I need to say how much I’m looking forward to seeing it?
My Antonia; Willa Cather
Unlike Britain ? which had the Brontes, Jane Austen, and George Eliot ? America had few noteworthy women writers until well into the 20th century. Willa Cather was an exception, and one of the few writers to chronicle the lives of the women who settled in the untamed frontier land west of the Mississippi. Her stories of Scandinavian and European immigrants in blizzard-bound places like Nebraska shine light on an often overlooked but hugely important part of America’s history. Meanwhile, the loves and struggles of her characters feel as real as a bracing Arctic wind on your cheek.
Anna Karenina; Leo Tolstoy
What happens to a woman whose passions and yearnings are stronger than society allows? Tolstoy intended the story of Anna Karenina to be a tragic lesson in the importance of living by the rules yet it’s clear that in the course of his writing Tolstoy fell hopelessly in love with Anna despite her flaws, just as the reader does. To me, Tolstoy is the greatest of all authors, someone who can create a whole character in a single sentence. Reading his work always feels like a lesson in the craft of writing.
The Forsyte Saga; John Galsworthy
There’s nothing I love more than a big, sprawling family saga full of lives, loves, and complications and, as family sagas go, this is surely the grandest of them all. Set in London, it begins in 1886 and stretches into the Jazz Age. Ten grand old Forsyte siblings, all in their 60s or beyond, all wealthy, and none of whom much like each other, preside over their fractious children and grandchildren. Soon the younger generations succeed their elders as the main characters and reading about their lives is better than the most gossipy magazine column you can imagine. Over the course of this long and rich story there are secrets, indiscretions and dark deeds aplenty, yet the book’s ultimate heroine, Fleur, emerges as sparkling and fresh as the future itself.
Rebecca; Daphne duMaurier
For me, the most important thing for a novel to have is vibrant, realistic characters. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire a good plot and when a perfect one comes along, I sit up and take notice! Rebecca has such a plot and from the famous opening sentence ? “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” ? I find it impossible to put down. I have read the book and seen the movie several times, yet each time I feel as if I’m reading it again for the first time. The shyness and insecurity of the narrator, her certainty that she will never equal her husband’s beautiful first wife in his affections, is the kind of jealousy we can all identify with, and the setting ? a grand old mansion on the sea in the author’s native Cornwall ? is irresistible. Do I need to add that the end, no matter how well one knows it, still manages to surprise every single time? A masterpiece of plotting!
Dr Zhivago; Boris Pasternak
I’ll be honest ? this is a book I was unable to appreciate until I was an adult. When I was 16 and saw the movie, I reached for the book but was disappointed to discover that the romance between Zhivago and Lara was not the dominant theme. There was a bigger dose of war and politics than I had bargained for. However, re-reading it many years later, I saw that the greatness of the book is the way in which it uses the vast scale of war and revolution to highlight the individual lives of the characters and how people remain individuals even when caught up in crushing circumstances beyond their control. Breathtaking.
Kristin Lavransdatter; Sigurd Undset
I love books that take me to times and places far outside my own life. This wonderfully long tale follows a woman in 14th century Norway right from her youth through to her married life, motherhood and death. Despite the historic setting, all of Kristin’s problems speak to contemporary women ? loving the wrong man, betrayal, losing one’s parents, learning to live with one’s mistakes and finding meaning in existence. It also offers a well-researched and fully imagined glimpse into life as it was lived in the (very) distant past. I’ve read Kristin’s story three times and each time I finish I feel I’ve lived a whole extra existence. How many books give you that?
You can follow the Neptune’s Tears blog tour on Monday 24th September by visiting www.daisychainbookreviews.blogspot.com