I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
Technically I should have saved this for my children’s books list. But I read it for the first time as an adult, and fell in love with it, and I think the themes of love and betrayal and poverty and genius are sufficiently adult to warrant its place here. A completely wonderful book.
Middlemarch – George Elliot
An amazing panorama of 19th century life. Religious and political commentary. Intriguing and memorable characters. Intimate studies of human relationships contrasted with searing social analysis. In my opinion, the finest novel ever written in the English language.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Well, another major struggle was which Austen to put on this list. They are all perfect, but I think Pride and Prejudice just about tops the list. Reading Jane Austen makes me feel very small and inadequate and incredulous that I have the temerity to even think about describing myself as a writer.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
When I was fifteen I could pretty much recite Jane Eyre off by heart. Romance, passion, drama, pathos. It was all there. In my head I was a Gothic heroine, and I just couldn’t get enough of the Brontes. I wanted to marry Mr Rochester, and I really wouldn’t have cared if the marriage was bigamous or not. I still haven’t brought myself to watch a single film or adaptation of this novel because it is all so vivid in my imagination that I don’t want to risk spoiling it.
The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
I would never have chosen to read a Nancy Mitford novel; in my head she was rather tarred by her sister’s Fascist proclivities. However, one rainy evening when we were forced into an impromptu visit to my mother-in-law’s by the abominations an incompetent builder had wrought on our house, I picked this off her bookshelf, and felt quite grateful for the hole in my house which had indirectly led me to it. Sparkling and witty and satirical and moving, it’s an absolute joy.
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
More gothic drama! Wonderful book by a wonderful writer. I haven’t come across anything by Daphne du Maurier which I haven’t enjoyed, and this has to be the best of the lot.
Howard’s End – EM Forster
Brilliant social commentary which is more thought provoking with each reading.
Excellent Women – Barbara Pym
The counter-balance to my enthusiasm for gothic fiction. Barbara Pym’s understated accounts of village life never fail to be drily, wryly amusing. Named by Philip Larkin as the most under-rated author of the 20th century.
Frederica – Georgette Heyer
I could happily have had a separate list of my top ten Georgette Heyer novels. For the amount of sheer pleasure she gives the reader she is very hard to beat, and Frederica is one of the best. Period atmosphere, engaging characters, laugh-out-loud situations and heartwarming romance are all Heyer trademarks.
Katherine – Anya Seton
I love historical fiction, and this is possibly the best historical novel ever written. The heroine, Katherine Swynford, had a passionate affair with John of Gaunt, ended up as his third wife, and thus became an ancestress of the Tudor dynasty. Incidentally she was also Geoffrey Chaucer’s sister-in-law. An achingly romantic love story with powerful (and accurate) period detail.