Please play along. You can use any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as they begin with ‘E’. I soon realised that I had not read that many books with an ‘E’ in the title. There are quite a few, it’s just that I haven’t read them. I had to resort to the surnames of authors for my top choice, instead of using the same book title later in the alphabet, as planned.
Jack Higgins is a very successful author. He has written at least 60 books, mostly fictional thrillers. And he writes them very well indeed, with convincing research, and realistic locations. In 1975, I read his most successful book, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. I recall that I read it in one sitting, unable to put it down. This ‘what if?’ idea of a German plan to assassinate Churchill is full of detail, yet fast-paced, and thrilling to read. When German troops are landed in England, pretending to be Polish, they contact pro-Nazi agents in a Norfolk village, eventually taking over the small community. Higgins gives humanity to those German soldiers, and we see them in a different light, as brave men, set on their mission. One of the best of the genre, and later made into a faithful film, starring Michael Caine, and Robert Duvall.
A short story, but an enduring moral tale that has always stayed with me. ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Andersen was first published in 1837. But this tale of vanity and pride is just as relevant in 2017. It also gave me a lifelong catchphrase, which I use to describe any display of false vanity, or the promise of something that cannot be achieved. I don’t know exactly how old I was when I read it, certainly under ten, but I have never forgotten it.
J. G. Ballard wrote ‘Empire of The Sun’ about his childhood experiences in China, and internment by the Japanese during WW2. A novel of survival and endurance during harsh times, made all the more powerful when you know it actually happened to the author. It was made into a film by Stephen Spielberg, and very well done indeed. A young Christian Bale played the boy, his first starring role.
Another book that was well-served by its film adaptation is ‘The English Patient’. This 1992 novel by Michael Ondaatje was a big seller at the time, winning the prestigious Booker Prize, and deservedly so. Set during WW2, it examines the lives of four very different characters, and how they all come together in one place, a bomb-damaged monastery in Italy. Hard to say more, without revealing too much of the story, but this is a compelling read that you are unlikely to forget.
My top pick today is from the Italian author Umberto Eco. Like three of the others in this post, it was also made into an excellent film, but the book is so much more. I was lucky to buy an early hardback edition in the 1980s, which I still own. This came with maps of the monastery interior on the insides of the front and back covers, which enhanced the pleasure of reading this murder mystery, set in the 14th century.
‘The Name of The Rose’ is not only a complex and intriguing tale of jealousy, greed, and murder set in a monastery. It is also a richly rewarding historical novel, packed with fascinating detail, and an overwhelming sense of time and place. One of my favourite books, and highly recommended.