Top positive review
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Encyclopaedic, erudite, always interesting...
on 2 March 2012
Picked this up on a whim in Waterstones and have never regretted the price. Written for those who having either passing interest in english fiction or are steeped in the classics of english literature, this tome gives and keeps on giving. It's a bit like Vasari or Suetonius in its conversational style, giving us the odd bit of salacious gossip on those whose words have made us despair as schoolchildren poring over what we thought were interminably boring texts, to the casual garden reader for whom the pleasure of the written imagination is a daily delight.
This is not a cover-to-cover book. It is undeniably the cliched coffee table book, something to dip into during boring adverts or a break in daily household chores. A book to read a single excerpt from before turning into bed; in which every two-four page biography gives us pause for thought.
For example, last night I let the book spill open at any such page it felt - yes, it's a book you can let the whimsy of fate control - to read about William Sharp. Never heard of him before, I thought, until I saw he wrote the "Sin-Eater" in 1895. Wasn't that a film with the late Heath Ledger? Turning from page 209 to 210 I found that indeed, the 2003 film, was based on the book by this author. Never knew that. I like the "Sin-Eater" film (something at which I am at odds with the author on - he describes it as "dire".) but had always thought it was from the mind of a Hollywood script writer.
Apparently not. Fascinating.
Last week I read how the stars of Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald waxed and waned in perfect symmetry against a backdrop of alcohol and friendship. It puts some of their novels in perspective.
I have learned some people came to authorship through fate, that my views on some need perspective - I never knew Baum (he of Oz fame) was so anti-Sioux. It changes ones view and reinforces that whilst our heroes and heroines can be tragically flawed, so are those who create them.
This is a book that ranges from the seventeeth century to the modern day. Seeing Robert Jordan, Julian Barnes, and Margaret Atwood brings the book even more relevancy as these are authors who are continuing to thrill us even today. It is written in a style that is lucid, thought-provoking, opinionated, amusing and serious in equal measure. Yet, most of all, this work by John Sutherland - for all its depth that shows how this Professor is at the every top of his subject matter - makes me want to go and read a lot of novels I'd never even heard of.