The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Some books are wasted on the young. When I was at school, Hemingway was on the curriculum and we dutifully read this novel, read the critics, learned what we needed to learn, and produced it at the appropriate examination time. That said,The Old Man and the Sea (Vintage Classics) hung around in my head in the intervening years and so, recently, I took it down from the shelves and re-read it. What a difference thirty years of experience brings to that second reading. Now I understand why this novel was on the curriculum. Now, indeed, I think it may well be the most perfectly crafted novel that I have ever read. Every word, every sentence moves this story forwards. The critics have not been universally kind to Hemingway. Some talk of ‘fakery’ in this novel but, to me, as an ordinary reader who loves books and literature, I was pleased to rediscover this work. The old man is a flawed hero but what hero is not? If you’ve lived a little, I think you’ll find a lot to relate to in The Old Man and the Sea (Vintage Classics) and for the pure craftsmanship of the writing, in my opinion there are few novels to touch this.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Powerful, poetic and moving, The Road by Cormac McCarthy will surely be regarded as one of the finest contemporary literary novels.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of those powerful stories that stays in your memory for a long time. It is the story of a father and son on a dangerous journey through a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. Their’s is a stark and hopeless world where survival is sustained by the love at the heart of their relationship. The Road is personal and intense. Father and son communicate through simple language. “Okay?” they ask. “Okay”, the response – again and again, like a Greek chorus. They are “each other’s world entire”, their quest a search for the good. The tale is tragic, primal in the same kind of way that Shakespeare’s King Lear is primal. McCarthy writes beautifully and his language is rich with poetry. Essentially a simple tale, The Road is an easy read. It is also one of the finest contemporary literary novels I have come across. A compelling read, it drew me in from the first page and carried me all the way through to the end. It left me in tears – which is not to say that there is not a suggestion of hope at the conclusion. I read it cover to cover in a day and have no hesitation in recommending it to you.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

So, I’ve just re-visited The Great Gatsby. Why? Because lately, I have wanted to re-read some of the novels that were on the curriculum when I was at school. It started when I picked up Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and was astonished at how wonderfully crafted a novel it is, and how, I largely missed that when I read it at 16 – perhaps because, at that age, even if you are bookish like I was, your exposure to literature is still so limited.

So, I resolved to look again at some of the other titles that were on that curriculum all those years ago and that is what led me back to The Great Gatsby (Penguin Modern Classics) this week. And what a pleasure the reacquaintance proved to be – how beautiful the language, how skilled the craftsmanship, how evocative the setting.

There is something alluring about the death of the American dream in novels that always draws me. Richard Yates has the same effect in Revolutionary Road.

Haunting sadness

But oh, how I wanted to read and re-read Fitzgerald’s sentences. I will dream of the haunting sadness of enchanted metropolitan twilight for days to come. How I wished to have this novel read aloud to me by a wonderful, slow voice that would savour the sentences.

If anything irritated me, it was the introduction and footnotes in the Penguin edition that I purchased because they are a distraction from the text.  A work like this deserves uninterrupted reading. By all means include the learned essay, but stick it at the back and let the reader first enjoy the novel.

At 170 odd pages, The Great Gatsby is a quick read. Take an afternoon break and treat yourself to a read or re-read. It is definitely worth it. Next up on my curriculum classics is Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics). Watch this space for details.