The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I hate top ten lists. Arbitrary, inherently unfair, downright unlit'rary, idiotic in assuming, even for argument's sake, that one masterpiece is definitely better than another. Here's mine:

Still there:

Davy by Edgar Pangborn
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Life's a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Open Letters by Vaclav Havel
United States by Gore Vidal
Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson


The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen


Essays by George Orwell
Grey is the Colour of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya
Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

is probably the worst word in the English language. The first two of the three I've ditched are excellent, essential books; I'd recommend them without hesitation to anyone, but there's too much of a feeling that I should include them because I find them worthy, not because they matter to me. With all three there's a question of fading influence: Ratushinskaya because I read her book over ten years ago, and Orwell because although I read the essays only a couple of years ago, I read them too quickly. As for Leiber, much as I revere and enjoy him, I've moved on.

Lampedusa and Grimmelshausen I've read in the past year and feel important; I'll see how they stand being revisited. Interesting to see the other week in The Guardian that Marcel Berlins, who writes a column every Wednesday, reads The Leopard every summer. Sciascia I first read nearly four years ago, have re-read twice since, and will re-read again. I recognise that he's sunk in, and that I really admire him.

Tarka, which I've read only once, and with difficulty, still seems to me a work of genius because it eliminates almost completely the human perspective. I've never come across anything so plot-free - it is pure narrative, and carries no moral judgements. It's all sensation - pain and release, joy and suffering - and everything in it passes.

Two Italians, Americans, and English; one Scot, Spaniard, Czech and German. Seems about right. Seven novels (four of them nominally for children), two essay collections and one play. No poetry, which I'm not going to let bug me.

If I had to pick only one out of the lot it would probably be Davy. "I'm Davy, who was king for a time. King of the Fools, and that calls for wisdom."

It's as good a way of marking time and measuring the changes it brings as any. Very many thanks to all those who have read my posts, and especially to those who have left comments.


At 4 August 2006 at 17:08 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Invidious as Top Tens are, mine would definitely include The Blanket of the Dark by John Buchan.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home