A couple of days ago, Simon at Savidge Reads and Thomas at My Porch created a new meme (Yes Simon, I know you didn’t want to call it a meme, but it is one – a nice one!). The challenge is to pick ten books that sum up your own country geographically but authors from that country. Simon has also made his post WWII in its scope – so a state of the nation picture as well.
I couldn’t resist the challenge. I have also kept it current in scope, and all books I’ve written about on this blog. The one bit I couldn’t do, and apologies to the land of my mother’s birth, but I have had to make it a Great Britain list (i.e. England, Wales and Scotland) rather than UK, as I couldn’t find a book to include for Northern Ireland. So here goes (all the links are to my reviews):
Firstly London and the Home Counties:
1. Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart.
This novel represents heritage and London Transport. Heritage through the titular Balthazar Jones being a Beefeater at the Tower, put in charge of the Queen’s Royal Menagerie, and LT through his wife Hebe working in the Underground’s lost property office where all of human life can be found. It sounds as though it should be an historical novel, but it was a lovely surprise to find that it was modern. Charming and touching in equal measure, with some lovely comic moments.
2. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
This novel represents rivers and my birthplace. The first in a series of paranormal police procedurals, there is a rich vein of fun running through this book – which leads to the raiding of a vampires’ nest in Purley (my birthplace), but you’ll never look at Covent Garden or Bloomsbury in the same way after reading it either. The great rivers being personified by modern day Gods and Goddesses adds a more serious mythological flow to the narrative. Hugely imaginative, there are now four books in the series. (Note to self – get reading them!).
3. Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
This pick is all about diversity. At its heart is Barrington Walker, a sharp-suited seventy-four year old who emigrated to Hackney from Antigua in the 1960s. Barry has a big secret, since his childhood his friend Morris has been his lover. Barry’s wife Carmel, thinks he’s a philandering womaniser, whereas Morris is urging him to finally do right by him. Add two contrary daughters to the mix and you have a richly bittersweet and hilarious family drama. I loved every page of this book.
Moving northwards to the Midlands
4. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
Adrian Mole is one of the funniest characters ever written. A product of working class folk in the Midlands, he is pompous in his unshakeable belief that he could be a great writer, but loveable too. His eight volumes of diaries take him from his early teens through to forty, chronicling the decades from the 1980s into the noughties with superb wit.
Now moving north and east to Yorkshire …
5. God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin
The North York Moors come to life in this story of a young man and his dog. Stuck working on the farm and virtually ignored by his parents, teenager Sam wanders the Moors. Then a family of incomers move into the area and he falls for their daughter. Rich in nature and landscape, and enhanced with a smattering of Yorkshire dialect, this novel was a fine debut and Raisin was picked as one of Granta’s latest Young British Writers under 40.
Going west …
6. All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills
Set in the Lake District during off-season, Mills’s hilarious novel encapsulates the plight of the outsider trying to fit into a community, when a plucky tourist stays on after his holiday looking for work. The book also highlights that it’s always a long way round lakes by road, especially by milk float. All of Mills’s novels are primarily about men and their work, and this one – his second – is still his best.
We now hop over the border into Scotland …
7. Stonemouth by Iain Banks
I would have included Banks’s The Crow Road, but haven’t read it during the life of my blog – so Stonemouth represents his writing instead. A Scottish seaside town is the setting for the funeral of the grandfather of the Murston clan, one of Stonemouth’s two ruling families. Stewart Gilmour is returning under a truce for it five years after they ran him out of town. Will he survive the long weekend? Will he see Ellie again? Cracking dialogue, punchy action, and some beautiful writing make this a fabulous read.
8. Death of a Gossip by M C Beaton
Completely opposite in style to Iain Banks’s characters is Hamish Macbeth – the canny police constable that would like an easy life on Scotland’s scenic west coast. Beaton is the current queen of the cosy mystery and the combination of the beautiful location, fun characters, and Hamish’s laid-back style of investigation all combine to make murder seem almost nothing to worry about! Personally I much prefer Hamish to her other long series featuring Agatha Raisin. The first two in the series were fun – I have another 25 to go!
Then down we go into Wales …
9. White Ravens by Owen Sheers
Representing farming and the food cycle, this short novel is a retelling of the story of Branwen, daughter of Llyr, from the second branch of the Mabinogion – a set of medieval Welsh stories of Celtic origin. The beginning is set on a farm beset with foot and mouth. The farming brothers go out stealing lambs to supply fancy restaurants in London, and their sister Rhi has to drive the van one day. At the Tower of London (there again!) she meets an old man who tells her a story of raven chicks, and an act of revenge of savage butchery. Grim but gripping with Sheers’ powerful writing.
And finally we join the dots, with a 627 mile journey from Devon to Northumbria…
10. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
A road novel with a difference. Retired Harold Fry sets out to post a letter to an old friend who he’s discovered is dying of cancer, but decides he’ll deliver it himself. Only problem – he’s in Devon and Queenie is in Berwick-upon-Tweed up by the Scottish border. On his journey, Harold meets some wonderful people, gets to appreciate nature along the way, and finds himself becoming a celebrity and being taken advantage of. We also learn about Harold’s life, how he and his wife Maureen have ended up in a rut; It’s a tear-jerking page-turner that just manages to stay the right side of sentimentality.
* * * * *
So that’s my ten books touring around Great Britain. Having limited myself to those I’ve written about on my blog and British authors, I wasn’t able to include East Anglia, or the great northern conurbations of Manchester and Liverpool. I would have liked to include a university novel for Oxford and Cambridge too, but couldn’t squeeze one in. Likewise, Beryl Bainbridge and Muriel Spark with their northern and London novels which mostly weren’t quite contemporary enough.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour. Feel free to have a go yourself and link back to Simon and Thomas.
18 thoughts on “Ten Books that Represent Great Britain”
Really like your choices. For entirely parochial reasons I especially liked your Scotland choice (though like you I prefer The Crow Road!). I also like your choice of a road novel – I really enjoyed Harold Fry myself. I liked this idea on Simons blog and I like your take on it – I might have a go myself!
Thanks Col. Will you do an all Scottish one?
At the risk of sounding like a Scottish Nationalist, I will do a Scots one. Partly because your GB list was great and partly because even though I love living in Essex and London I still think of Scotland as homeland! Plus it will allow me to choose BOTH of my favourite Ian’s (Rankin and Banks) rather than be forced to choose between them!
Fun! And since I endlessly do the journey from Berwick to Devon and back, I’ve got to read the road novel! Must read some more Magnus Mills, too – love the cover of that one.
That’s a long way! Harold Fry is a lovely book too. 🙂
What a lovely post Annabel! I guess everyone’s choices will be different and I enjoyed reading about yours. Particularly intrigued by the Owen Sheers book as I have seen him presenting on TV and he seems quite erudite!
Thanks Karen. The Owen Sheers book is part of a series where Welsh authors retell the Mabinogion – all of the books are excellent. White Ravens is brilliant – I haven’t read anything else by Sheers though.
Ah – sounds good. I think he’s a poet but I really must track this one down!
I used to live in the Lake District so read all the books set there I can find, but I hadn’t heard of ‘All Quiet on the Orient Express’. I’m going to have to get a copy right now!
Mills is one of my favourite authors Jackie. This book is darkly hilarious – if you get it, I hope you enjoy it too.
Mills is one of those authors I’ve wanted to try for a while so this is the perfect excuse. I ordered a copy this afternoon and look forward to trying it 🙂
Thanks for this. I still consider myself new to the Uk even though I’ve been here for almost 2 years. A couple of your books were already on my radar, but a couple new ones have been added as well.
Thanks Tanya. Sometimes I just love to be able to do a post that links back to old reviews of books I enjoyed.
I haven’t read any of these, which is kind of exciting. I did buy the Rachel Joyce the other day so I will be able to tick off at least one of them.
Thanks Thomas, and I added to my wishlist from your US novels too. I hope you enjoy Harold Fry.
Love your thoughtful selection with its focus on quirky characters.