247–257: The Comforters; The Darling Buds of May; A Breath of French Air; The War of the Worlds; Moonfleet; Raffles; The Gun; Some Prefer Nettles; The Twelfth; Little Women; and Love, Roger

Is the world a lunatic asylum then? Are we all courteous maniacs discreetly making allowances for everyone else’s derangements? I might have said this before, but Catholic convert authors do like to write about Catholicism (cf. Evelyn Waugh). Muriel Spark’s The Comforters has elements of that; elements of mystery; elements of metafiction; and elements of … More 247–257: The Comforters; The Darling Buds of May; A Breath of French Air; The War of the Worlds; Moonfleet; Raffles; The Gun; Some Prefer Nettles; The Twelfth; Little Women; and Love, Roger

238–244: The Incredible Crime; Before the War; Rocannon’s World; Planet of Exile; City of Illusions; Mortal Engines; and The Postmistress

Lois Austen-Leigh’s Cambridge-based mystery The Incredible Crime comes complete with an image of my own college on the front cover, so can you blame me for buying it? It’s really rather fun as well, with a particularly enjoyable flirting scene, a compelling plot, and some wry and witty writing. Worth a read. What was a … More 238–244: The Incredible Crime; Before the War; Rocannon’s World; Planet of Exile; City of Illusions; Mortal Engines; and The Postmistress

233–237: Robin of Sherwood and The Handmaid’s Tale

The next four books are novelisations of the 1980s television show Robin of Sherwood. Yes, novelisations count as novels. The reason I bought them is particularly because I have enduring memories of the second book, The Hounds of Lucifer, from my prep school days. Robin Hood is, perhaps more than anything or anyone else, our … More 233–237: Robin of Sherwood and The Handmaid’s Tale

227–232: The Lathe of Heaven; I, Robot; The Left Hand of Darkness; and the Black Magician Trilogy

Who has humanitarian dreams? I will say confidently that The Lathe of Heaven is one of the most imaginative pieces of dystopian-stroke-utopian fiction ever written. The protagonist is George Orr, an almost impossibly ordinary man – “the man in the middle of the graph” – but he is terrified of sleep because, from time to … More 227–232: The Lathe of Heaven; I, Robot; The Left Hand of Darkness; and the Black Magician Trilogy

216–226: The Prussian Officer; If I Die Before I Wake; Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang; Don’t Point That Thing at Me; The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; The Red House Mystery; Coraline & Other Stories; The Lost World; Robinson; The Call of the Wild; and White Fang

DH Lawrence’s The Prussian Officer is a strangely brutal (in places), and yet excellent, collection of short stories, from the titular tale in which the brutality of the officer in question has murderous consequences. Conflict and feeling are predominant themes. (Also, and quite irrelevantly, I will never miss an opportunity to introduce people to, or … More 216–226: The Prussian Officer; If I Die Before I Wake; Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang; Don’t Point That Thing at Me; The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; The Red House Mystery; Coraline & Other Stories; The Lost World; Robinson; The Call of the Wild; and White Fang

210–215: Striding Folly; Whose Body?; Unnatural Death; Stardust; The Postman Always Rings Twice; and The Man Who Was Number Four

Crime time, and three Lord Peter Wimsey books to get going with. The first is a collection, named Striding Folly after the first of the three stories it collects. They’re all gems, actually, looking at the titular detective from a multitude of angles. Wimsey is a detective with – ironically, perhaps, given his name – … More 210–215: Striding Folly; Whose Body?; Unnatural Death; Stardust; The Postman Always Rings Twice; and The Man Who Was Number Four

201–209: Mr Kafka, and Other Tales; Monsignor Quixote; When I Lived in Modern Times; The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency; Plain Tales from the Hills; The Age of Innocence; A Chess Story; Nightmares of Eminent Persons, and Other Stories; and The Man of Feeling

Set in post-war Prague, Bohumil Hrabal’s stories in Mr Kafka, and Other Tales are deeply, deeply peculiar, but strangely mesmerising nonetheless. I don’t think I can really do them justice – let’s just say that you’d be unlikely to find anything quite like them anywhere else. “The rest is all just warming up the soup … More 201–209: Mr Kafka, and Other Tales; Monsignor Quixote; When I Lived in Modern Times; The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency; Plain Tales from the Hills; The Age of Innocence; A Chess Story; Nightmares of Eminent Persons, and Other Stories; and The Man of Feeling

195–200: All the Sad Young Men; The Pat Hobby Stories; The Great Gatsby; Forgotten Fitzgerald; Tristan and Isuelt; and Mrs Miniver

I think it’s probably pretty indisputable that Fitzgerald was a very talented writer – observant, stylish, and funny – but my lasting impression after this binge was that he wasn’t a very positive-minded one. As a general rule, things go wrong for his characters (the odd exceptions are hugely refreshing, though). All the Sad Young … More 195–200: All the Sad Young Men; The Pat Hobby Stories; The Great Gatsby; Forgotten Fitzgerald; Tristan and Isuelt; and Mrs Miniver

184–194: Phantastes; Black Mischief; Death on the Cherwell; Dracula; Pride and Prejudice; Tales of the Otori; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; The Princess Bride; and The Old Man and the Sea

Phantastes is George MacDonald’s extremely peculiar attempt to create what he called a modern fairy-tale. It’s not like the vast majority of fantasy fiction; it’s a meandering, dreamlike tour of Faerie, a place sinister and delightful in equal measure. It’s a mythopoeic project, and it’s baffling and wonderful all at the same time. “We’ve got … More 184–194: Phantastes; Black Mischief; Death on the Cherwell; Dracula; Pride and Prejudice; Tales of the Otori; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; The Princess Bride; and The Old Man and the Sea