Please play along with your own favourites. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with an ‘H’.
I have to start with the American writer, Thomas Harris. He has given us a new villainous character who became one of the best known in the world, once his books were adapted into the hugely popular films. In ‘Red Dragon’, ‘The Silence of The Lambs’, and ‘Hannibal’, Harris displayed a detailed knowledge of forensics, and a real talent for bringing the serial-killer into the public imagination. Hannibal Lecter became the ruthless killer we all grew to actually admire, with his impeccable taste, and huge intelligence. Harris also provided wonderfully complex characters to try to bring the killer to justice, in Will Graham, and Clarice Starling. He also used locations perfectly, with his talent for description making them familiar to the reader.
In this genre, Harris has no equal.
No ‘H’ would be complete without mention of Ernest Hemingway. This hard-living novelist and journalist travelled the world, and wrote his experiences down in novels, non-fiction books, and articles. His subjects included Fishing, Bullfighting, World War One, and The Spanish Civil War, and he made sure to have first hand knowledge of everything he wrote about. He didn’t write as many books as most of us imagine. However, ‘The Old Man and The Sea’, ‘A Farewell To Arms’, and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ remain as some of the most widely read books in modern literature.
Written in 1931, but set in the year 2540, ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley was a vision of the future that is already familiar, long before the 26th century. Artificial childbirth in baby factories, with indoctrination of the young, and a drug given to all citizens to keep them calm and compliant. A rigid caste system, the eradication of disease, and a society of outcasts, living beyond the influence of a world state. This was written long before WW2, and events since its publication have confirmed that Huxley’s vision of the future might become all too real.
Another novel which makes a realistic prediction for the future, and one that feels all too possible too. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Attwood looks at a not too distant America, where Christian fundamentalists have overthrown the US government, and imposed a regime based on the strictest laws found in The Bible. In a militaristic society ruled with an iron hand, homosexuality, adultery, and defiance, are all given the death penalty, strictly enforced. Minor infringments are also given harsh punishment, such as the removal of an eye, or a hand.
With most females now sterile, children are taken away from their mothers, and brought up in state-run institutions, or given to those in power. The women still capable of childbirth are trained as ‘handmaids’, given over to local Commanders, to bear children by them. This is all the more chilling as a novel, because it is very easy to see how this might happen today. A powerful book indeed.
My top pick for today is from the work of the marvellous English writer, Thomas Hardy. I came late to Hardy, having disliked D.H.Lawrence, and for some reason, considering him similar. I then saw the film ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, and decided to explore Hardy’s writing. I was overwhelmed by the period feel, and once again by the painstakingly detailed descriptions that allowed me to visualise everything, from a tent at a fair, to the unseen features of the protagonist. ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ is one of the ‘Wessex’ novels by Hardy, and my favourite. It deals with regret, reconciliation, greed, shame, and as usual, betrayal. It is soap-opera on a grand scale, and at a higher level, with writing to relish.
There is so much more to discover in ‘H’. I will await your own choices with interest.