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THE PANTHEON

...home of the finest, most amazing books I have had the pleasure of reading.

CATCH-22

Joseph Heller

 

I confess that when at University, and I began to have serious thoughts of being a writer, in my darker moments I would happily fantasize that my first novel would be heralded ‘The Catch-22 for the 21st Century.’ Ahem. Reading it then over a decade ago, I couldn’t believe how it was possible for one book to contain so much flare and elan. So it was with trepidation that I re-read it recently, after stumbling across the beautiful Vintage hardback special edition, the discovery of which in the library, prompted a must-have consumer sequence. I have to say that my respect for it has only deepened. Boy oh boy, could this man write. The sentences are both hardworking and effortless, the humour slicing, and the satire perfectly pointed. Okay, so it is not a perfect book, but it doesn’t have to be, because its good parts are so searchingly higher than anything else you’ll read for a long time, if not ever. If you are serious about novels, I don’t think that not reading this work is an option. It is a brilliant example of the art-form.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Anthony Burgess

 

Masterful first-person narrative in certainly one of the finest novels I have ever read and surely a contender for most powerful literary character of all time.  Several weeks of work lost from thinking this must be the only way to write; then tootling off and trying to copy Burgess (unsuccessfully, ahem).  Almost everything for the writer is here: the perfect three-act structure, the beautiful writing entirely serving the needs of the story.  A deep, mature set of ideas crafted to make all events connected and relevant to the main protagonist’s journey.  The devious, spam-smacking rightness of the linguistic device!  Then there is the absolutely crucial balancing of Alex’s violent character with his love of music; and if you will allow me to highfalut a little, this aspect struck me like the horn sequence at the end of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: the thrill of being terrified by darkness, the idea that all great art, all highest human achievement is built on the bestial need that pushes lesser-controlled mortals (men?) to rape and slaughter.  A merciless ticking of internal drives, perhaps not solved by western culture, but sharpened into a deadly point and hurling us towards extinction.  A framework that allows Burgess to deliver some amazing writing.  He even has the time and space to sneak in the world’s finest-ever music review.  If you study the novel form, here is one of the best examples available of language, character, theme and plot working together in perfect harmony.  The result – a mesmerising, gripping, unforgettable read.

 

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