The Classics Club Spin Spun Me ‘Black Narcissus’ ….

…. and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I fell in love with the cinema adaptation of ‘Black Narcissus’ – by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – many years ago, but it was only a few years ago that I noticed Rumer Godden’s name among the credits, and realised that the book that had been adapted was written by an author whose works for children I had loved.

‘Black Narcissus’ was Rumer Godden’s third novel and her first best-seller.

Black Narcissus - book cover

It tells the story of a small group of nuns from the Order of the Servants of Mary, who had has been invited to form a new community in an old, disused palace, the former home of the harem of an Indian general, high in the Darjeeling hills. It was a place that had a certain reputation with the local population, but the sisters were to run a dispensary, and a school to offer education to native

Sister Clodagh was to lead the community; Sister Philippa was to manage the gardens; Sister Briony was to run the dispensary; Sister Honey was to teach the local young women to make lace; and Sister Ruth was to give lessons to the younger children.

It was a wonderful plan, but nobody was interested; nobody came.

Mr Dean, the general’s agent, an Englishman gone native, offered practical help that the sisters accepted, and sensible advice that they did not.

The altitude, the isolation, the unemployment, began to affect the sisters. One dreamed of motherhood; one longed for romantic love; one dwelt her life as a young woman, before she took her vows; and one realised that an interest was turning into an obsession.

But as the nuns fell in love with the strange beauty of their surroundings, with the village children whose families were paid by Mr Dean to send them to school, with Mr Dean himself, they began to fall out with each other. Long buried emotions had come to the surface.

Sister Clodagh lacked the experience, and maybe the understanding to manage the situation. And, of course, there were consequences ….

Rumer Godden sets out every detail. She is subtle, gentle, but she makes it clear that everything that happens is inevitable. It comes from the characters, their situations, their emotions.

There is a wonderful depth to the women, their relationships, their stories, and yet the narrative feels simple, natural and it is utterly compelling.

There is little plot: a young man is allowed too close to a young woman; a sick child is brought to the nuns; one sister leaves and another snaps …. But it is enough to move the story forward while keeping the focus on the members of the community, and their lives.

The prose is lovely, the atmosphere and the descriptions are gorgeous.

But there was enough space for me to realise that this wasn’t just the story of a group of nuns; it was the story of the British in India.

The book and the film are very different pleasures – the book is gentle and absorbing; the film is striking and melodramatic – I wish I could have read the book without knowing what would happen, but it didn’t really matter, because the book held me in the moment from start to finish, and I didn’t pull away remembering that I knew what would happen once.

I would have liked to now a little more about each woman, but this is a very short – maybe too short – novel. But sometimes it’s best to be left wondering.

And I’m so curious now to see how Rumer Godden grew as writer with the many books she wrote after this very early novel.

Which book should I read next …. ?

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Laura Willowes was a much loved daughter, she grew up happily in the country, and she became the kind of countrywoman whose life moved with the rhythms of nature in the way that lives had for generations. But when her beloved father died she became a ‘spare woman’ and her life was taken over by her brothers and their wives.

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Such was the way of the world in the 1920s, when Sylvia Townsend Warner told her story.

“Caroline spoke affectionately, but her thoughts were elsewhere. They had already journeyed back to London to buy an eiderdown for the bed in the small spare-room. If the washstand were moved towards the door, would it be possible to fit in a writing-table between it and the fire-place? Perhaps a bureau would be better, because of the extra drawers? Yes, that was it. Lolly could bring the little walnut bureau with the false handles on one side and the top that jumped up when you touched the spring by the ink-well. It had belonged to Lolly’s mother, and Lolly had always used it, so Sibyl could not raise any objections. Sibyl had no claim to it whatever, really. She had only been married to James for two years, and if the bureau had marked the morning-room wall-paper, she could easily put something else in its place. A stand with ferns and potted plants would look very nice.”

The world was changing though, I knew it and there was something in the tone, in the rhythm of the words that told me too. There was a wonderful mixture of delicate observation, wry knowingness and love for the story being told; all of that made it feel very special.

Laura accepted her family’s decision, accepted it as the natural way of things, and settled into a new life. She was absorbed by her family, and even her name was changed to Lolly, because one of one of her young nieces cannot pronounce “Laura” and that was the name she came out with instead. Nobody thought to as Laura if she minded. She was a wonderful aunt, she was loved, but she wasn’t valued.

“Caroline resigned herself to spending the rest of her evenings with Laura beside her. The perpetual company of a sister-in-law was rather more than she had bargained for. Still, there she was, and Henry was right—they had been the proper people to make a home for Laura when her father died, and she was too old now to begin living by herself. It was not as if she had had any experience of life; she had passed from one guardianship to another: it was impossible to imagine Laura fending for herself. A kind of pity for the unused virgin beside her spread through Caroline’s thoughts. She did not attach an inordinate value to her wifehood and maternity; they were her duties, rather than her glories. But for all that she felt emotionally plumper than Laura. It was well to be loved, to be necessary to other people. But Laura too was loved, and Laura was necessary. Caroline did not know what the children would do without their Aunt Lolly.”

As her nieces and nephews grew up Laura began to feel the gap in her life, and the country and its traditions began to call her back. All she could do though was fill the house with flowers. Until one magical day when the stars aligned, and Laura realised that she could have the life she wanted, a life of her own.

Sylvia Townsend Warner had painted her gradual awakening to the call of the countryside beautifully, and she makes Laura’s final realisation quite glorious:

“Laura looked at the bottled fruits, the sliced pears in syrup, the glistening red plums, the greengages. She thought of the woman who had filled those jars and fastened on the bladders. Perhaps the greengrocer’s mother lived in the country. A solitary old woman picking fruit in a darkening orchard, rubbing her rough fingertips over the smooth-skinned plums, a lean wiry old woman, standing with upstretched arms among her fruit trees as though she were a tree herself, growing out of the long grass, with arms stretched up like branches. It grew darker and darker; still she worked on, methodically stripping the quivering taut boughs one after the other.”

 “As Laura stood waiting she felt a great longing. It weighed upon her like the load of ripened fruit upon a tree. She forgot the shop, the other customers, her own errand. She forgot the winter air outside, the people going by on the wet pavements. She forgot that she was in London, she forgot the whole of her London life. She seemed to be standing alone in a darkening orchard, her feet in the grass, her arms stretched up to the pattern of leaves and fruit, her fingers seeking the rounded ovals of the fruit among the pointed ovals of the leaves. The air about her was cool and moist. There was no sound, for the birds had left off singing and the owls had not yet begun to hoot. No sound, except sometimes the soft thud of a ripe plum falling into the grass, to lie there a compact shadow among shadows. The back of her neck ached a little with the strain of holding up her arms. Her fingers searched among the leaves.”

Laura knows then that she must answer the call of the country, and fate guides her to the village of Great Mop, in the heart of Buckinghamshire. He family are astonished, they protest, but she goes anyway.  And she finds happiness, she finds her place in the world, in the country.

It was lovely to watch her quiet, simple transformation.

But then the story changes.

When Laura’s family intrude on her new life, when the balance is upset, the mystical thing that had been calling her towards her destiny became rather more tangible. And, for me, it didn’t quite work. The spirit of the story, the direction of the story was right, but it felt heavy-handed. The best books that dabble with things that may be real or may be fantastical are so captivating that I don’t stop to think about what is going on, and which it is. This part of the story didn’t quite catch me, it wasn’t quite subtle enough and I couldn’t love it as I’d loved what came before.

I came unstuck near the end the first time I read ‘Lolly Willowes’ but not this time

I realised that I might be judging the book a little unfairly, because I’m comparing it with books that were written so much later, and with many of the books that I love the best of all.

I have to cherish a book that, three years before Virginia Woolf published ‘A Room of One’s Own’, said:

“One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broom stick. It’s to escape all that, to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others, charitable refuse of their thoughts, so many ounces of stale bread a day ….”

And I found so much to love that it was easy to let go of small disappointments.

I loved the arc of the story, I loved the telling of the story, and I loved the spirit of the story.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

I must admit that I have have been shy of meeting the Provincial Lady for such a long time.

You see she was so popular, I read so much praise for her wit and her charm, that I became the bookish equivilent of the shy child, who was so often tongue-tied and could never quite keep up with the leading lights.

provincial-ladyI resisted a green Virago Modern Classics omnibus containg this book and its three sequels; I resisted a lovely anniversary edition clothed by Cath Kidson; but when a new Persephone edition appeared I could resist no more.

Three copies of a book I hadn’t read would be too silly!

Now that I have met the Provincial Lady I am inclined to say that the dove-grey Persephone garb suits her best. And that the I found her such wonderful company that I quite forgot my shyness.

I should explain first that the Provincial Lady wrote her diary in the 1930s, and that she lived in a very busy life in a lovely village in the south west of England. She had a lively household to manage, and a welter of social obligations.

 “Query, mainly rhetorical: Why are nonprofessional women, if married and with children, so frequently referred to as “leisured”? Answer comes there none.”

I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways. I never doubted that the Provincial Lady understood, that she cared, and that she poked fun at herself just as much as she did at others.

the-diary-of-a-provincial-ladyThe household was a joy to watch. There was a taciturn husband, usually to be found behind a newspaper. There was a son away at school, and a daughter being educated at home by a French governess, who was sometimes highly capable and sometimes terribly sensitive. There was a cook who had to be carefully managed, and there was usually a parlour maid, though good parlour maids were dreadfully difficult to find and even harder to keep.

And I sympathised with the Provincial Lady’s social struggles. She never seemed to have read the book, seen the play, visited the exhibition, that everybody else was talking about. Her indoor bulbs never seemed to do quite as well of those of her neighbours. And he children never seemed quite as well behaved, quite as accomplished, as other people’s children. She took it all with good humour, but there were moments, particularly when she was patronised by Lady Boxe:

“Find myself indulging in rather melodramatic fantasy of Bentley crashing into enormous motor-bus and being splintered to atoms. Permit chauffeur to escape unharmed, but fate of Lady B. left uncertain, owing to ineradicable impression of earliest childhood to the effect that It is Wicked to wish for the Death of Another. Do not consider, however, that severe injuries, with possible disfigurement, come under this law – but entire topic unprofitable, and had better be dismissed.”

I noticed that the Provincial Lady’s social circle brought different things to the story, Her dear friend Rose showed the value of friendship, of somebody who could offer sensible and practical support and advice. Mrs Blenkinsopp, who missed her newly-wed daughter and had to cope with the ridiculously hearty Cousin Maude brought pathos. And old school-friend Cissie Crabbe, who lived in a bedsit in Norwich brought a different kind of humour.

But there is much more here than humour. A certain generation, a certain class, and a way of life that would very soon be gone, is captured beautifully. It is dated, especially in its attitude to money and to domestic staff, but I accepted that it came from a different ages, and there were more than enough good things for me to let go of that.

Especially a lovely strain of bookishness, and the knowledge that the Provincial Lady was an aspiring author.

“Notice, and am gratified by, appearance of large clump of crocuses near the front gate. Shold like to make charming and whimsical reference to these, and to fancy myself as ‘Elizabeth of the German Garden’, but am interrupted by Cook. saying that the Fish is here, but he’s only brought cod and haddock, and the haddock doesn’t smell too fresh, so what about cod?”

In the 1930s my grandmother lived in a big house, with a young family and  a small staff, She loved to read and I do hope she read this book, because I am sure she would have loved it too.

Cullum by E Arnot Robertson

‘Cullum’ was Eileen Arbuthnot Robertson’s first novel, published in 1928 when she was just twenty-four years old. It’s an extraordinary piece of writing. Flawed, but still extraordinary. It was a great success, but it had a mixed recession. It was expected that women would write about love, in this case first love, but it was not expected that women – that anyone – would write about love quite like this.

CullumEsther Sieveking was nineteen and she lived with her father, a military man who had retired to the country to train horses, and her two much younger sisters. Her French mother had abandoned them to live in Paris, occasionally, imperiously, summoning them for visits. And so Esther grew up in genteel poverty and, with her mother absent and her father seeming emotionally detached from his children, little guidance.

She grew into a countrywoman, who lived for her horse and for the hunt, and when she wasn’t riding she was in the library, reading, or dreaming of becoming a writer.

It was no wonder she was smitten when she met Cullum Hayes, a twenty-four year old writer who had already met with success at a dinner party. And it was no wonder that he was intrigued by the confident, outspoken young woman, who said things not usually said – by young or old – at the dinner table.

Esther told her own story, looking back at time when she had gained wisdom but lost none of her passion. And she acknowledged at the very beginning that this story would not have a happy ending.

“Once the glamour has faded it is hard to give a clear impression of a man whom one has loved, as he appeared while the magic endured. Feeling loses so much of its life in the translation into words that one has to be still a little bound by the spell, still partly convinced at least, of the reality of the broken enchantment, in order to be convincing, and in retrospect it is difficult to see the figure in it’s old perspective, unaltered by the light of after-knowledge, and to realise where the charm lay. Yet, in a way I am still conscious of Cullum’s charm.”

The signs were there, that Cullum – who had a fiancé – was playing Esther. That he was taken by her, that he would take everything that she was willing to give, but that he would give her only as much as he had to, to keep her by his side.

The story of their relationship is written with such insight, such intelligence, and such extraordinary maturity. The dialogue is wonderful, and Esther’s voice rings utterly true.

“I knew that I loved Cullum, knew in my heart that he loved me, but I was not sure what I wanted to happen, or if, indeed, I wanted anything to happen that might alter existing conditions. To both of us just then, I think, love unexpressed but gloriously apparent seemed sufficient on itself. Certainly I did not want to marry Cullum. Marriage did not enter my head; the child of an unhappy union …”

He independence, her candour, were wonderful but I feared for her and I worried about what would happen to her, what future would be left for her when Cullum tired of her, when those qualities began to pall.

Esther was devastated when she realised that Cullum did not love her as she loved him. The way that she found out, and the extent of his disloyalty that she would discover in time, would have shocked even a more experienced woman. Her reaction was shocking, but it was entirely in character.

And then came the letter.

“His letter left me dazed for several days. I could not believe that Cullum had gone out of my life for ever, not that he was the contemptible romancer and cheat that life had suddenly proved him, I only knew that I wanted him. My mind recognised that he was worthless, my whole body was crying out for him; reason has no more power to recall love that to bestow it.”

After that the story fell away, with Esther’s voice muted as she just carried on. Until a rather melodramatic ending brought Cullum’s story to a firm conclusion.

It was a wonderful story, told with passion but with not an ounce of sentimentality.

The only real weakness I saw was the author’s inclination to shock. There are just one or two moments that jar in this book, but I know that others have found that shock tactics completely undermines some of her later work. Such a pity because she writes so well, and showed such great promise in this first novel.

Cullum himself I am happy to forget, but the book that bears his name and its distinctive, modern heroine have left their mark.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

I had such high hopes that I would love this book, and I did, so very much.

So many people had said that it was so good, that it was Barbara Pym’s best book, and when I realised that it was the story of a spinster, in her thirties in the fifties, my mind went spinning back.

Not to the fifties – I’m not that old – but to when my mother took me to church as a very small child. We always sat behind a row of elderly ladies, and I spent a long time looking at their backs and hats during dull sermons and lengthy intercessions. They always spoke to my mother – they had know her since she was a small girl coming to church with her own mother – and whenever something was going on, be it a coffee morning or a jumble sale, they were always there and they were always busy.

When I was a small girl I thought that they were ancient, but looking back I think most of them would have been in their sixties. Years layer my mother used to visit one of those ladies when she was housebound, and I remember my mother telling me that she was always so welcoming and so appreciative. Not long after she did her nephew appeared on our doorstep with two carved elephants. My mother had mentioned in passing that she remembered her parents having a similar pair, and she had made a note that nother was to have her elephants.

I’m rambling, but I’m going to come to the point now. Mildred Lathbury – the excellent woman who tells this story was so real, so utterly believable that I am quite prepared to believe that I might have been looking at her back and her hat back in the day.

Excellent Women

Mildred Lathbury was the daughter of a clergyman, and she had been brought up in a country vicarage, but when she found herself alone in the world she moved to a small flat near the Anglican church that she regularly attended. She was a stalwart of that church and had formed a close friendship with Winifred Mallory. She was the vicar’s sister and, as both sister and brother were ummarried, they lived together in the vicarage. It had been suggested that Mildred would be an excellent wife for Julian Mallory …

New arrivals heralded change.

First new neighbours moved into the flat below Mildred’s. Helena Napier, an anthropologist, arrived first, and Mildred was taken aback when Helena spoke to her freely and frankly, when she announced that she didn’t go to church, when she said that she didn’t believe in housework. Her husband, Rockingham had just come out of the navy and was on his way home from Italy. Mildred wasn’t sure if she liked Helena but she was intrigued by her, and by new possibilities.

And then the Mallory’s decided to let a room. Allegra Grey was a clergyman’s widow and she seemed to be the ideal person to share the vicarage. She wasn’t, and some worked that out more quickly than others. There was much speculation, and a good deal of gossiping

Mildred’s relationship with the Napiers was lovely to watch. She was flattered to be asked for help and advice, and she came to realise that marriage was far, far more complicated than she had realised. And that she was rather more involved than she really wanted to be. Events at the vicarage offered interesting parallels and contrasts. Church events provided a wonderful backdrop. And I haven’t even mentioned Everest Bone …

Barbara Pym constructed her story so cleverly and told it beautifully. There is wit, intelligence and insight, and such a very light touch and a natural charm. A simple story, but the details made it sing. It was so very believable.

It offers a window to look clearly at a world that existed not so long ago, but that has changed now so completely.

Mildred’s voice rang completely true, and I did like her. She was a genuinely nice woman, practical intelligent, and dependable. She didn’t think marriage was the answer to everything, she liked having her independence and her own space, but she did rather like the idea of being married, of having a companion in life.

And now I have just one more word – excellent!

Mariana by Monica Dickens

This may be the loveliest opening to a novel that I have ever read.

“Mary sometimes heard people say: ‘I can’t bear to be alone.” She could never understand this. All her life she had needed the benison of occasional solitude, and she needed it now more than ever. If she could not be with the man she loved, then she would rather be by herself.”

It captured my own feelings perfectly, and expressed them more beautifully than I ever could.

MarianaMary escaped to the country with just her small terrier dog, Bingo, in tow. Her husband was at sea, in the navy, and the country was at war. Because she wanted to be quiet, to remember, to think.

It was lovely watching Mary and Bingo settle in, lovely to be reminded of the depth of Monica Dickens’ understanding of character and of her talent for catching exactly the right details to paint a perfect picture.

I was particularly taken with her understanding that a terrier can be sound asleep and alert at the same time …

The peaceful scene was disturbed when Mary switched on the wireless, when she heard that her husband’s ship had been hit. There were survivors, there was hope, but Mary had a night to get through before she found out the next morning if her husband was alive or dead.

It was a sleepless night, and as she lay awake Mary turned over memories in her mind.

She remembered her childhood, with a mother who had been widowed in the last war and who worked as a dressmaker to support them. Her husband’s family would have helped but she didn’t want to be beholden to them. It was enough that they gave Mary lovely, idyllic summer holidays in the country. And a place in a bigger family.

She remembered going to drama school with grand plans, and coming to realise that she was on the wrong path. Fashion college in Paris was a much better idea. She could have a lovely time and she could play a part in the family business. Mary had a wonderful time in Paris, and she made a marvellous catch. But even the most marvellous catch is not necessarily the right catch.

Mary found her happy ending back in England, at the most unexpected moment.

Now it has to be said that Mary is not the most sympathetic of characters. She is often awkward, thoughtless, selfish even. But she was real, and for all her failing I did like her, I did want her to find her path in life, her place in the world. Sometimes fallible heroines are so much easier to love.

And Mary was real, alive, and her emotional journey was so utterly real. There were highs and lows, tears and laughter. Every emotion a young woman might go through. And so many incidents, so many moments to recollect.

All of this was observed so beautifully, with understanding, intelligence, and just the right amount of empathy.

But if Mary’s life was the foreground, the background was just as perfectly realised. Her world was as alive as she was, and every character who was part of that word, even if only for a short while, was caught perfectly.

I loved watching over Mary’s life. It was an ordinary life, but every ordinary life is unique and Monica Dickens highlighted that quite beautifully.

And I could have stayed in her world quite happily, but morning eventually came, and Mary had to face whatever news of her husband might come. And when it came I had to leave.

I’d love to know what happened in the next chapters of Mary’s life, but failing that I’ll go back and read about the years I know all over again one day. Because this is a lovely book, and a lovely way to get lost in another life and another world.

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

I must confess that, though I loved the recent film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have been circling my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!

In the end I picked it up because it was small enough to fit in my handbag to read at lunchtime and short enough that it wouldn’t take forever to read. And I fell in love. With lovely, elegant prose; with the clear understanding of the human condition; and with the characters and their stories.

Kitty was one of two sisters, daughters of a good family, living in London in the 1920s. She had been expected to make a good marriage, and yet after several seasons she was no nearer to her wedding, and her chances were lessening. She knew that, and when her younger sister became engaged to a most eligible man she found that she could not bear the idea of being the bridesmaid.

Though Kitty was undoubtedly spoiled and selfish, her situation was so clearly drawn that I found I understood. I wanted her to esacape, and I wanted her to learn.

The Painted VeilWalter Fane, a young doctor home on leave from Hong Kong, saw that situation, and he proposed to Kitty. He was a quiet, serious, bookish man; not Kitty’s type at all; but she saw a chance of escape and she took it.

I understood completely why he had proposed, why she had accepted, but I feared for their future.

Hong Kong had a busy social scene but Kitty, as the wife of low-ranking government employee, had no place there. Her husband was attentive, but she didn’t love him, it wasnt;t enough. And so Kitty drifted into and affair with a handsome, charming government official. She was besotted, and willing to give up everything to run away with him, but he was ambitious and comfortable with his wealthy, forgiving wife.

I could see that, but of course Kitty couldn’t.

Inevitably Walter discovers the affair. He speaks honestly, about her, about him, and about their marriage.

“I had no illusions about you,” he said. “I knew you were silly and frivolous and empty-headed. But I loved you. I knew that your aims and ideals were vulgar and commonplace. But I loved you. It’s comic when I think how hard I tried to be amused by the things that amused you and how anxious I was to hide from you that I wasn’t ignorant and vulgar and scandal-mongering and stupid. I knew how frightened you were of intelligence and I did everything I could to make you think me as big a fool as the rest of the men you knew. I knew that you’d only married me for convenience. I loved you so much, I didn’t care. Most people, as far as I can see, when they’re in love with someone and the love isn’t returned feel that they have a grievance. they grow angry and bitter. I wasn’t like that. I never expected you to love me, I didn’t see any reason that you should, I never thought myself very lovable. I was thankful to be allowed to love you and I was enraptured when now and then I thought you were pleased with me or when I noticed in your eyes a gleam of good-humoured affection. I tried not to bore you with my love; I knew I couldn’t afford to do that and I was always on the lookout for the first sign that you were impatient with my affection. What most husbands expect as a right I was prepared to take as a favour.”

And he offers his wife an ultimatum: she can have her lover take immediate steps to divorce his wife and marry her, or she can travel with him to the Chinese interior where he has offered his services to treat the victims of a cholera epidemic.

Kitty tells Walter that she never loved him, that her lover will marry her, but she discovers that he won’t.  And so she has no choice but to travel with her husband to a ravaged, isolated community. 

It is there that Kitty comes of age, finds a purpose in life, and realises the true worth of her husband. But Walter cannot forget what his wife has done, or what he had done: marrying her when he knew that he could not give her the life she wanted, be the husband she wanted, and punishing her with that terrible ultimatum.

The Painted Veil is a clearsighted, understanding study of a difficult marriage. Neither Kitty nor Walter is entirely sympathetic, but I found it easy to understand that their natures, their emotions, and their circumstances had made them what they were. I cared, I wanted the best for them, though I had no idea what that might be.

Maugham offered no easy answers. But he did offer a wonderful story told in simple, clear, elegant prose. He did paint vivid pictures of the world Kitty and Walter lived in, a world that he knew well. And, best of all, he offered moments of such clarity, such understanding that I had to catch my breath.

I have moved Maugham to a different box, marked ‘A Great Author And I Must Read More of His Books,’ now.

But which one next … ?

Which books are the must-reads … ?

Are there any best avoided … ?