A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

The Books that Built the Blogger: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.

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When I was in my final year at Queens University in Belfast, my reading habit really took hold. My modules meant that the style of books I was reading was expanding and I really started buying books in earnest. Most days saw me browsing in the University Bookshop near my student flat, buying books because I liked the name, or the cover, or had heard of the author but hadn’t read their work yet.

I can’t remember what drew me to The Secret History by Donna Tartt – the cover was austere, verging on the dull and I had never heard of the author, but something about the title and the premise appealed to me so I bought it on a whim. When at last I read it, it was more than I could have hoped for and it has become the book I have reread most; the book I have lent to friends most and oddly, my comfort read. The Secret History is the book I credit with sparking my interest in crime fiction and it contains themes that have become my favourite in literature – from the campus setting to the unreliable narrator. I have loved Tartt’s other books, but for me, nothing comes close to the power of The Secret History.

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The story is the perfect blend of intellectual pursuit and page-turning thrills as it tells the story of a close knit group of classics students at a private college in Vermont, who, under the influence of their charismatic tutor Julian, kill a man during a Bacchanalian rite and then are forced to turn on one of their own. Taking the themes and atmospheres of classical literature, the book is a brooding, menacing, wildly intelligent tale told in fresh and vibrant prose.

This was my first introduction to the ‘campus novel’ and I was intrigued by the golden glow of this Vermont world, the picturesque setting and the fiercely intelligent students. The campus novel also intrigues because it captures that moment in time when you are set free to learn and play and experiment and work out who you really are. While reading The Secret History, I was planning the next stage of my life – moving to a new city on my own to do a Masters and I could relate to this idea that I was teetering on the edge of new horizons where anything might be possible.

It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!

The Secret History also introduced me to the narrator as outsider, as potentially unreliable and questionable. Richard, in the prologue, tells us of a murder ‘for which I was partly responsible’ and the joy of the book comes from the apprehension of the ‘why’ rather than the surprise of the ‘what’. Richard, like the reader, is perfectly suited to be entranced by this group of students. He has no other friends, is not close with his family and is ready to create a new narrative for his life. He becomes subsumed in this smart, conceited group and like Nick in The Great Gatsby, he is drawn to their beauty until he cannot look away.

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?

This is Richard’s fatal flaw – like all great Greek heroes, he has one – he feels ordinary against the beauty of his friends. He never quite feels deserving. All his hopes are projected on to them and the fact of being a member of their group is enough for him to go along with whatever they say. I have often thought of The Secret History as a companion piece to Lord of the Flies where the isolation of the group is not geographical, but intellectual, and where left to their own devices, the group will eventually turn on itself.

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Donna Tartt

 

By aligning the reader with Richard, Tartt invites us, like him, to join this charismatic, elegant select group, to be a witness to their secret history and keep it close. We are in her confidence and we are in awe. She takes you back to that time where everything felt possible and everything seemed perfect and where the idea of growing up and growing apart was impossible to bear.

The Secret History is 25 years old this year and in my mind has become a classic novel and an unforgettable novel, one that I plan on reading again and again.

 

The TBR Book Tag!

I was tagged by Naomi at The Writes of Woman to take part in the TBR meme. Given that my whole blog is my TBR it kind of made sense to take part!

 How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I don’t. I was so proud of myself for actually counting them all on that fateful day in December 2013, that I have made no other effort to catalogue or track what I’m reading. I have a vague intention of listing the books on my TBR when I get to around the 400 mark, but we’ll have to see about that.

Is your TBR pile mostly print or e-books?

I would say about 60% print and 40% e-books. I was buying A LOT of e-books in the run up to my book-buying ban as it was just so…easy. But I’ve been buying books pretty seriously now for over 20 years so there are a lot of print books that I have yet to get around to reading.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

I don’t really have a system, I usually go by my mood. Sometimes I turn to you guys for a Reading Roulette pick and other times I like to see if I can join in with a reading challenge that’s going on. I enjoy those because they often nudge me to read books I wouldn’t have thought of picking up. Often I have to look up a book on the internet to remind myself of what it’s about and why I may have bought it, which is a little embarrassing!

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What book has been on your TBR the longest?

I had a discussion on Twitter with Naomi about this and came up with Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, which I bought when I was in second year at University in 1990 (there goes the secret of my age!). However, on reflection, I realised that my Dad bought me a copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens when I was 10 and I haven’t read it yet. Yeah, that one is 34 years unread. That’s scary.

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 A book you have recently added to your TBR?

Anyone following the blog will know that I haven’t bought a new book FOR MYSELF for almost two years, although my husband has been very good in buying a few books for me for birthdays and Christmas. The last few books that officially got added to the 746 were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. That was my last binge before starting the blog and the no-buy challenge.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

I try not to say that I will never read a book, because obviously at the point when I bought every book on my TBR pile I wanted to read it. The one I think might be the last in my challenge is Infinite Jest. I have tried to read it about 10 times. The furthest I’ve ever got is page 100. And if you’ve seen Infinite Jest you’ll know that’s not too far into that big, big book. It would take a lot to make me pick it up and try it again, although if I’m going to finish what I’ve started, then I’ll have to read it at some point!*

*and best not mention Ulysses……

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An unpublished book on your TBR?

Nope. None. Obviously.

A book that is on your TBR because of the cover

Probably more than I would care to admit to. A few include Swell by Corwin Ericson; St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell and the stunning Building Stories by Chris Ware

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends

The Hound of the Baskervilles. It keeps getting recommended to me and I keep threatening to read it. Someday, I promise.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you

I sometimes feel that I am the last person on earth (Ok, the blogosphere) to have read anything by Virginia Woolf. I intend to get around to Mrs Dalloway sometime soon. I also wonder if there is anyone else who has yet to read Stoner?

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A book on your TBR that you are dying to read

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt but I keep putting it off because I think it’s not going to live up to my expectations.

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How many books are on your TBR?

Officially it stands at 654 at the moment, however I’ve read two more books that I haven’t reviewed yet.

So 652.

I’m managing to read about 50 a year, so I guess I’ll be here until about 2028…..

 Tagging:

Niall at The Fluff is Raging

Naomi at Consumed by Ink

Barbara at Book Club Mom

Melanie at Grab the Lapels

Top Ten Tuesday – Debut Novels

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I enjoyed thinking about this week’s topic, Top Ten Literary Debuts. I actually made a list of about 25, so culling it down to 10 was hard. Special mentions should obviously go to classics such as The Pickwick Papers, Wuthering Heights, The Invisible Man and Sense and Sensibility but in the end I went with some of my favourites!

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published in 1992, The Secret History is a murder mystery about a group of classic students at a privileged New England college who attempt to evoke a new way of thinking and living outside the boundaries of their lives. From the opening page, Tartt lets us know that they have taken their experiment too far and have murdered one of their group, making this striking novel a why-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit. The Secret History was a literary phenomenon and has since become a literary classic. Has she been able to follow it’s success? That is another argument, but there is no mistaking that The Secret History is a remarkable achievement. Smart, readable, gripping and one of my favourite books of all time.

2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye in 1970 while teaching at Howard University and raising her two sons as a single parent. The story is about a year in the life of a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove, who dreams of being a beautiful, blond, blue-eyed child was conceived during a writing workshop and propelled Morrison to literary fame. With it’s themes of racism, abuse and familial love, it is a complex and striking first novel packing as much power as Morrison’s Pulitzer prize winning Beloved.

3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
It takes courage to call your debut novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but courage is not something Dave Eggers is in short supply of. When he was in his early twenties, his mother and father died within months of each other, leaving him as sole guardian of his 8 year old brother Christopher. This part autobiographical and part fictional novel charts their journey, both geographical and psychological to move on from their parents death. At times it may be arch and self-conscious (particularly as it charts Eggers attempts to star on MTVs The Real World) but it is an emotional tale of how we deal with loss and navigate our lives toward adulthood. Eggers has gone on to found McSweeney’s journal and publisher and his most recent novel was The Circle.

4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
American writer and poet Sylvia Plath’s debut novel The Bell Jar was also the only novel she wrote. Originally published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical as it charts it’s protagonists descent into clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a mere month after its first UK publication and under the wishes of both Ted Hughes and Plath’s family, was not published in the US until 1971. To read The Bell Jar is now almost a rite of passage and it remains a searingly honest and beautifully written book.

5. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Before his untimely death, Scottish writer Iain Banks was as well know for his science fiction novels as his literary fiction. However he wrote his debut novel The Wasp Factory in an attempt to be more mainstream as his science fiction novels had not been accepted for publication. His story of Frank, a teenager with anger issues and violent tendencies living on a remote Scottish island became an instant classic and allowed Banks to write full time and excel in both genres. Banks often said that he envisaged The Wasp Factory as a SF novel, with the island standing in for a planet and Frank as the alien. It is certainly an unforgettable and remarkable debut.

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6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In 1964, Harper Lee talking of To Kill A Mockingbird said that ‘I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place’. But sell it did. Lee’s debut novel about a little girl called Scout and her father Atticus Finch, has sold over 40 million copies, been turned into a classic movie and regularly tops the list of the worlds best loved books. Regardless of your thoughts on this year’s follow up Go Set a Watchman, there is no denying the power and strength of what was, for a long time, Harper Lee’s only book.

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
In 1816, following the loss of a baby, Mary Shelley came up with the idea for Frankenstein at the behest of Lord Byron who suggested all in his company should write a ghost story. Aged only 19 at the time, Shelley’s debut novel has become a gothic classic and is often cited as the beginnings of the science fiction genre. Early reviews may have been mixed, but the classic tale of the doctor who creates life is an archetypal story that has captured readers imaginations for years. Without Frankenstein, could there have been Dracula or Jekyll & Hyde? Who knows, but Frankenstein has entered the public consciousness to become one of our most recognisable monsters.

8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
The story of the publication of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may go some way to explaining the astonishing success of Steig Larsson’s trilogy. A journalist and editor, Larsson died at the age of 50 and left three (now four?) unpublished thrillers now titled the Millennium series, featuring journalist Mikeal Blomqvist and expert hacker Lisbeth Salander. Scandinavian crime was just beginning to take off in the UK when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published and Larsson became the poster boy for that particular genre. The book may not be the greatest thriller ever written, but there is no doubt that it’s popularity is in most part due to the fascinating character of Lisbeth Salander – the damaged, tough and smart protagonist. Two movie adaptations and over 30 million copies later and the fourth in the series has just been published.

9. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers was only 23 when the publication of her debut novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter made her an overnight literary sensation. It is a hauntingly beautiful tale of the deaf-mute John Singer and the social misfits that inhabit the town in which he lives. Often cited alongside Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor as one of the main authors of the literature of the American South, McCullers debut is a novel of psychological depth and social insight and remains a masterpiece to this day, giving voice to the lonely, the forgotten and the unloved.

10. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man began life as Stephen Hero in 1903, with a planned 65 chapters. Joyce reworked and condensed his novel, introducing his now famous use of free indirect speech but still struggled to find a publisher. At the behest of WB Yeats, he sent the manuscript to Ezra Pound who initially serialised it in The Egoist literary journal before it was finally published in New York in 1916. The publication of his novel earned Joyce a place in the canon of great writers and contains all the techniques he developed in his later works Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses

 

So, aside from the classics I mentioned at the start, have I missed out anything really obvious? What would be your favourite debut novel?

Top Ten Tuesday – Get yer own book!

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WARNING: This weeks post contains spoilers, particularly for Rebecca!

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book. I think most books would be interesting told from another character’s viewpoint, but these are the ones I’d be most interested in reading.

  1. Rebecca DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The unseen titular character, from Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel could more than hold her own in a spin –off book. Maybe a prequel? A stunning beauty, who appeared to be the perfect society wife, was actually a cruel promiscuous liar, taunting her husband with her various affairs, faking a pregnancy and eventually driving her husband to shoot her so she doesn’t die of cancer. Mrs Danvers can stand aside; Rebecca DeWinter is the true villain of this tale and the most interesting character!

2. Lolita from Lolita by Nabokov
The fact that we never get to hear anything from Lolita’s point of view in Nabokov’s novel makes her all the more intriguing. Is she a shallow and manipulative young girl, using the men around her to get what she wants, or a confused, lonely victim of all the adults who are supposed to protect her? An attempt has been made in the critically mauled Lo’s Diary to give her a voice, but it reimagined the events of the book. How great would it be to hear the same book from Lolita’s point of view?

3. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Ah, Miss Havisham. That wedding dress, the banquet, those stopped clocks. Miss Havisham is less a character and more a walking manifestation of the pain of grief and the ravages of time. Her character is supposedly based on an Australian woman who left the wedding feast on the table and the door ajar in case her fiancee should return and her story is an intriguing one that captures the imagination.

4. Lucky from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
While there is probably no point in hoping for back story in a play by Beckett, Lucky is one of the most intriguing characters in theatre. He speaks only 2 lines in the whole play, the trick being that one of those lines is over 700 words of gibberish. Why is he slave to Pozzo? Why can he only think when a hat is placed on his head? Why Lucky?

5. Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The central question in We Need to Talk About Kevin is this. Is Kevin born evil which makes his mother unable to love him? Or does Kevin become evil because of a lack of love from his mother? Only Kevin can answer that and I for one, would love to read what he has to say.


6. Melquíades from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It takes a great character to stand out in a book covering seven generations of the one family, but the gypsy Melquíades has no problem doing so. He travels the world all year round, coming to Macondo once a year with the marvels he has discovered. He dies twice but still returns to guide the generations of the family whose lives he has foretold in prophecy. Yep, he’s a pretty cool guy.

7. Sick Boy from Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Of all the addicts in Trainspotting, Sick Boy is the one who seems to be using heroin as a lifestyle choice rather than due to addiction and when his mate Renton tries to kick the drug, Sick Boy does it too, just to show he can. He’s amoral, charming and cool and he knows a lot about Sean Connery but who can say how much the death of his daughter influenced his later scams?

8. Gertrude from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Everything in Hamlet is Gertrude’s fault. She kicks off the entire story by marrying her brother in law shortly after her husband’s death and we never hear any reasoning for her choices. What do we make of her? Domineering, incestuous mother or victim of the men around her? I’d be intrigued to hear about the State of Denmark from her point of view.

9. Julian Morrow The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This enigmatic, charismatic and brilliantly intelligent teacher of ancient Greek comes across less like a professor and more like a cult leader to his hand-picked students. He is like a pastiche of the perfect university teacher – unconventional and cosmopolitan, friend of the famous (the Sitwell’s and Marilyn Monroe) and high priest of learning.

‘I hope we’re all ready to leave the phenomenal world and enter into the sublime?’

I know I am.

10. Sylvie Todd from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I found Sylvie to be quite an intriguing character throughout Life After Life, but it wasn’t until the end that I realised quite how interesting she might be. Is Sylvie time travelling as well as her daughter Ursula? All it takes is one little line in the final chapters of the book to make us rethink her entire character. ‘One must be prepared’.

Is there any character you would like to get their own book? Or a book you think would be improved by being from another viewpoint?

Top Ten Tuesday – Friendship

 

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is friendship. Once I’d written my list, I quickly realised that I haven’t exactly chosen books about friendships, rather I have chosen books which contain striking friendships. So, rather than do it all again, I hope you’ll indulge me!

 

1. Roseanne McNulty and Dr William Grene
From The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Roseanne McNulty, nearing 100 years old has been interred in a mental institution since she was a young woman. With the hospital facing closure, it is up to Dr William Grene to decide where Roseanne should go. In researching what brought her to this place, Dr Grene finds himself becoming more and more attached to his elderly charge and in tracing her unknowable past, shares his own losses and hurts. As they search for their own personal truths in this artfully constructed novel, they find their histories are more intertwined that could have been imagined and their friendship builds to a climax that is both heartrending and moving.

The world is not full of betrayers, it is full of people with decent motives and a full desire to do right by those who know them and love them. This is a little-known truth, but I think it is a truth nonetheless. Empirically, from all the years of my work, I would attest to that. I know it is a miraculous conclusion, but there it is. We like to make strangers of everyone. We are not wolves, but lambs astonished in the margins of the fields by sunlight and summer.

 

2. Owen Meany and John Wheelwright
From A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
During a baseball game in New Hampshire in 1953, one eleven year old boy – Owen Meany, hits a ball that kills his best friend’s mother in a freak accident. But Owen doesn’t believe in accidents and despite being severely undersized, with a voice defect, and tortured by his classmates, maintains a heart-warming and selfless friendship with the friend whose mother he killed and comes to command love, respect and fear before dying his predestined hero’s death.

It makes me ashamed to remember that I was angry with him for taking my armadillo’s claws. God knows, Owen gave me more than he ever took from me—even when you consider that he took my mother.

3. Tyler Durden and Narrator
From Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
“It’s only after you’ve lost everything,” Tyler says, “that you’re free to do anything.”
What does a good friend do? Allow you to be your true self? Give you courage to make hard decisions? Let you make mistakes without prejudice? Then let’s face it, Tyler Durden is a pretty good friend to our insomniac unnamed Narrator in Fight Club. The imaginary friend writ large, Durden is the perfect creation, everything the narrator is not. Or so he believes….

 

I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not.

 

4. Vladimir and Estragon
From Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

When you think of Waiting for Godot, friendship doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. It’s a play of stagnation. Of waiting for that which won’t come, of the futility of that waiting and of our inability to escape it. But one important thing is, Didi and Gogo and waiting together. Their relationship is one of dependence and intertwinement and it is impossible to imagine these clowns without the other. This is a shared loneliness, and it is their friendship and its stark contrast to the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky that give the play its brief moments of hope, humour and warmth.

Estragon: [on one leg] I’ll never walk again.
Vladimir: [tenderly] I’ll carry you. [Pause.] If necessary

 

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5. Emilia and Desdemona
From Othello by William Shakespeare
In Emilia and Desdemona, Shakespeare gives us one of the strongest depictions of a female friendship in all its dimension and death. Emilia is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters. Under the influence of her husband, she unwittingly brings about the downfall of Othello and Desdemona, but her courage and loyalty to her friend in her public unmasking of Iago brings a small measure of hope within the tragedy. Their friendship provides the necessary counterpoint to the hypocrisy and plotting of that between Iago and Othello and she remains a loyal, intelligent and forceful friend to the end, sacrificing her life so that Desdemona’s reputation can be restored.

I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,
Lay down my soul at stake: if you think other,
Remove your thought; it doth abuse your bosom.
If any wretch have put this in your head,
Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse!
For, if she be not honest, chaste, and true,
There’s no man happy; the purest of their wives
Is foul as slander.

 

6. Mouse and Mary Ann
From the Tales of The City series by Armistead Maupin
When thinking about Tales of the City, a series of books that always makes me think of friendship, I considered including Anna Madrigal and any one of her charges. But Anna is the obvious choice. Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton are the odd couple, with Mary Ann functioning as the straight, uptight foil to the laid back unshakeable community who accepts everyone. Even her. The friendship between Mouse and Mary Ann survives lovers, murder, children, abandonment, stardom, AIDS and finally cancer. There is no question of not being there for one another, regardless of what has passed – what else should friends do?

 

It occurred to Michael, that this was the great perk of being loved: someone to tell you that it will get easier up ahead. … Even when it might not be true.

 

7. Michael Lamb (Fr Sebastian) and Owen Kane
From Lamb by Bernard MacLaverty
It’s hard to imagine that the story of a young disillusioned priest who runs off with a boy from his school would not touch on the theme of child abuse. But Lamb was written in 1981 and this wouldn’t have seemed as odd an omission over 30 years ago. Regardless, it doesn’t feature in this heartbreaking story of Michael Lamb who runs from the school he teaches in and takes with him a 12 year old boy he has befriended who has severe epilepsy in the hope that they can both find better lives. Michael is hoping to save Owen and in doing so, save himself, but the outside world inevitably closes in and Michael’s solution is bleak and uncompromising, but driven solely by his love for Owen.

It was motivated by love. It would be a pure. Of this he was sure.

 

8. Cathy and Heathcliff
From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

It may seem strange to include Cathy and Heathcliff in this list, given they are often seen as the most romantic of doomed lovers. A lot of that perception has to do with the film versions, which show them as adults. In fact, in the book, they are inseparable friends from the age of 6 and Catherine is a mere 15 when she decides to marry Edgar with the immature request that he allow her and Heathcliff to continue as they have for most of their lives. ‘Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend––if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own’ No one understands them the way they understand each other to the point that Catherine sees them as being one person and that person cannot be denied.

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

 

9. Richard, Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla
From The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is probably not the best example of friendship as it exists to nurture and create a loving environment. This is the dark side of close friendship, where a lack of boundaries, too much information and a tendency to bully can have far reaching and dangerous consequences. Henry, Richard, Francis, Charles and Camilla support, help and lie for one another, trapped in a cold complicity, Theirs is undoubtedly a friendship, but one with sinister and disturbing ends.

The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant – the idea was so truly heavenly that I’m not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.

 

10. Chris and Gordie
From The Body by Stephen King
I read The Body after falling in love with the movie version Stand By Me back in the 1980’s. Both seem to capture perfectly that precarious moment between childhood and adulthood when you are trying to hold on to one whilst simultaneously reaching for the other. The boys banter and ribbing give way to a lovely, nurturing friendship where Chris and Gordie buoy each other u and become each other’s support systems in place of family. It’s a friendship told through rose tinted glasses to be sure, but it’s an unforgettable one.

We were clinging to each other in deep water. I’ve explained about Chris, I think: my reasons for clinging to him were less definable. His desire to get away from Castle Rock and out of the mill’s shadow seemed to me to be my best part, and I could not just leave him to sink or swim on his own. If he had drowned, that part of me would have drowned with him, I think.

So, who are your favourite friendships in literature? Any particularly great ones I’ve overlooked? Do let me know what you think.