Words: Chelsea Haith
The Colour Purple:
Alice Walker’s famous novel The Colour Purple follows ‘women of colour’ in the American south in the 1930s, when racial tensions were running high and the Civil Rights Act wasn’t even a twinkle in Martin Luther King Jr’s eye. In 1983 Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for the novel but it is often criticised for its explicit sexual violence, particularly between Celie and her abusive father Alphonso. Not a novel for the faint-hearted, it looks at the role of black women in the oppressive society of Georgia, USA and challenges colour discrimination in the rural South.
Another difficult read, this novella by Anthony Burgess is better known for the film adaptation of the same name. Sexually violent and explicit, the novella is intended to be read as a dystopian take on a future English society overrun by violent youths, symbolised in Alex, the leader of a pack of ‘droogs’. Alex is submitted to aversion therapy to cure him of his violent tendencies but the novella ends with the protagonist pondering the cyclical nature of violence in his society, not very unlike our own.
The Mystery of the Yellow Room:
‘Le mystere de la chamber jaune’ in the original French by Gaston Leroux heralded the rise of locked-room mysteries whose purpose is to challenge the mind of the reader to figure out how the villain escapes. Mentioned in The Hollow Man, which is lauded as perhaps the greatest locked room mystery, The Mystery of the Yellow Room follows journalist and amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille as he attempts to unravel the mystery. An old novel, it was published in 1907.
Green Eggs and Ham:
Dr Seuss, a master of the poetic form has troubled parents and children with the concern that they may one day be presented with green eggs and ham since it was first published in 1960. According to Theodor Seuss Geisel’s usual tomfoolery the book (hardly a novel) follows the mindless pondering and wonderings of someone quite sure that they do not like green eggs and ham. Not a masterpiece, it is still one of the most noted works by Dr Seuss, alongside ‘Oh the places you’ll go’ and ‘The Cat in the Hat’.
The Scarlet Letter:
Nathaniel Hawthorne has been apologising for the religious vigour of the early Puritan settlers for almost two centuries now with his novel The Scarlet Letter. The novel follows poor Hester Prynne who is doomed to wear the letter ‘A’ for Adultery on her clothes for the rest of her life as a result of her pregnancy and giving birth to Pearl, her angelic daughter. Hawthorne’s ancestors were the same crowd that Arthur Miller reviled so thoroughly in The Crucible and their faults of ignorance, pride, religious vanity and piety as well as blatant cruelty are laid bare in Hawthorne’s classic work.
The Green Mile:
Serialised in six parts before being published as a whole novel, Stephen King’s fictional account of Tom Hanks’ Paul Edgecombe’s supernatural experience of the magic within John Coffey and the evil inside men is a brilliant read and a brilliantly adapted film. The work was published in 1996 and the contents are typical of King’s insight into human nature, what makes our hair stand on end and the way we respond to things we do not understand.
The premise of Jack London’s tale about the wolf-dog White Fang seems at first childish. The deeper in you read, the more heart-wrenching the novel becomes and the more involved the reader is in the trials and tribulations of the maligned wild animal. White Fang is the focaliser and London’s commentary and animal abuse and human being’s attitudes to animals in the late 1890s and early 1910s is devastating and heart-breaking. This book is to be read with tissues in easy reach and a healthy desire to be a vegetarian.
Thomas Harris first gave us Hannibal Lecter in this genius novel published in 1981 starring the charming and chilling Dr Lecter, cannibalist and psychiatrist extraordinaire. The book only came to fame after Harris wrote the famous sequel The Silence of the Lambs which was adapted into the film of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter and Jodie Foster. Harris is a master in his genre and the psychological thriller genre will forever thank him for his contributions as well as the famous line that Hopkins made so completely his own, “Hello, Clarice.”
The Black Dahlia:
James Ellroy’s dark retelling of the true story of the murder of Elizabeth Short is in part thriller, in part drama and is all about the gritty underbelly of Los Angeles, hamming it up with gangsters, dolls, corrupt cops, the works. Described as ‘neo-noir’ the novel is the first of several by Ellroy set in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Short’s murder was a major Hollywood story at the time and the historical fiction is as full of sex, scandal and slimy characters as the real-life events.