Thursday, November 23, 2006

Top 10 Reads

Here are what I think are the best novels around, at time of press, in no particular order. No doubt I've left out a biggie.

MONEY by Martin Amis

I've never seen a writer so on fire, in terms of accessing the English language and turning it to his own demonic ends. He plays with it like putty, making obscene and ridiculous shapes with it before rolling it up again and doing something else. I've always thought that Amis got a bit bored after reaching these heights.

CRASH by JG Ballard

Another language one. I know a lot of people see CRASH as primarily a big knock at post-industrial culture, fucking the automobile etc, but to me it's the funniest comic novel I've ever read. You can have both polemic and full-on laughs in the same book. That's always my ambition anyway.

TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES by Thomas Hardy

An old favourite. I read it in my teens and was horrified to find myself moist-eyed. But, shit, what a babe Tess is. And Angel Clare... ah, such a twat. But yes, I know, they were shackled by the constraints of their time etc... I'm not sure if what I write is noir, but I can see some of the elements in my stuff. For me (and without getting bogged down with definitions) noir is about fate, and how the world will fuck you at every turn. Probably reading TESS at an earlyish age instilled that in me. But what a babe!

TAPPING THE SOURCE by Kem Nunn

I'm always surprised to realise that I love this one so much. I suppose not many have heard of it (especially in the UK), but you should seek it out. Really it's a coming-of-age thing about a kid from the desert moving to the surfing beaches of California in search of his lost sister... and finding himself in a whole heap of shit. I'm not much of a summariser, but you can trust me that everything is pulled off just right. You get dragged into darker and darker places (from your point of innocence behind the young hero), and by the end you know you have been somewhere. Just brilliant.

POP. 1280 by Jim Thompson

Thompson... I could pick many of his novels, but this one sticks out a bit more than most. Before I read it, I just didn't realise what you could get away with in terms of totally unrestrained protagonists in positions of (perceived) authority, which is a big area of interest for me. Actually, I think the main pull for me is that, in this book, Thompson is spectacularly at ease with the first-person voice.

DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes

You just start reading this big old Penguin Classic, and then you keep reading, and then you get to the end and you're sad. Your eyes are moist. But it's not like Tess. You're not sad at the fate of old Don, but because such a great book is over. Go on, read it again.

PET SEMETARY by Stephen King

I heard that King (who had a young family at the time) wrote this one and then put it in a drawer for a couple of years, because it scared him. I don't think any other King novel (or anyone's novel, come to think of it) gets as close to the primal fears at the heart of every family. For me, this is his most horrifying novel.

PICK UP by Charles Willeford

As I was saying to someone the other day, never has a last line in a novel knocked me off-balance as much as this one. PLEASE don't cheat. Just read it all from the start. And DONT CHEAT.

ALL QUIET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Magnus Mills

"Quiet" being the operative word here. No big bangs and tense action in Mills' novels, just a gentle stroll through the countryside that leaves you with the uneasiest of feelings...

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER by David Goodis

Got to have a Goodis in here, and this one nails it easy for me. A long time since I read it, but the feeling stays fresh. You read it thinking "yeah, great, but this is the normal sort of stuff.." Ah, but it's not. Think about it and everything is different from your usual noir novel of the time. (NB: Original title is DOWN THERE. The "SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER" one is borrowed (wisely, I think) from Truffaut's film version)

1 comment:

B.A. Goodjohn said...

Got to agree about Hardy. Just picked up the Mayor of Castlebridge and am loving it...again. Not so sure about Don. Tried it and it breaks my heart to admit it, but I gave up.