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Brian Morron’s Desert Island Books

I couldn’t resist the invitation to choose my eight Desert Island Books, but I soon realised what a tough task it was. How to select only eight books after nearly 70 years of reading? So, I’ve made the job easier (slightly) by excluding the classics. No Emma, no Anna Karenina and no My Antonia by Willa Cather. Even then it proved impossible, so I’ve limited it to books published after 1950 and no non-fiction. So, no room for Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, or Jenny Diski, nor Dog Days by Elspeth Barker, which includes one of the best descriptions of grief/bereavement I’ve ever read, as well as a hilarious description of her alcoholic pet pig, Portia. Yes, I know I’m cheating. So, here goes.

Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge by Evan Connell  (1959/1969)

Strictly speaking, two books written ten years apart, about a well-to-do middle class married couple in 1930s America. Read both to fully appreciate the subtle skill of the writing, as the second gives you some of the same events from the other’s perspective. Which is what great fiction teaches us to do. It might exasperate you but it’s guaranteed to make you smile.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)

A thoughtful novel about an honest woman who tells a harmless fib and struggles to cope with the consequent complications. She’s a sad character, but the book is full of fun with a great sub-plot about a young, aspiring writer who befriends her. Is he being kind or is he using her? Can he be both?

The Death of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs (1975)

Now renamed The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. There are very few novels dealing with office life. This one really captures the monotony, the pressures and, indeed,  the depression which are all too common in the workplace.  You might know the essential story of Reginald Iolanthe Perrin from the TV series. This book and its successor, The Return of Reginald Perrin, are just as funny but they are also much darker than the televised version. Nobbs was a comic writer of enormous talent. I could also have chosen his Second to Last in the Sack Race or Going Gently, his take on the 20th century through the eyes of a woman approaching her hundredth birthday. But I do have a soft spot for Reggie Perrin.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)

I have a spare and much battered copy which I’ve lent to people over the years and they’ve all enjoyed it. It’s a huge novel of India in the Indira Gandhi years, written with warmth and humanity, without shrinking from the cruelty and corruption of the time. It’s a wonderful read, although I would have preferred a different ending.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (1997)

A multi-layered book about how Germany has been coming to terms with its recent past, but this is very much a book about the importance of reading and being able to read – something we know from the statistics of illiteracy in prisons. The film wasn’t bad but the book, as is so often the case, is much better.

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)

I’m sure I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s the novel about the betrayal of the Windrush generation; but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a heartbreakingly powerful story, told from the viewpoint of two black and two white characters.

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (2010)

Set in Sierra Leone, it’s a bittersweet tale of love, friendship, memory and regret, superbly written by one of our most impressive visiting authors.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf (2013)

An American writer I discovered only recently. This is typical of his work:  a gentle, empathetic portrait of the power of kindness in a tough world. I chose him over Ann Tyler because he’s less well known.

Gill told me to pick the one I’d save above all others and my luxury. At the time of writing my saved book would be A Fine Balance because there’s so much in it. My luxury would be my iPod. It’s crammed full of music playlists. Something for every mood.

Brian Morron


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