Please continue to play along. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘L’.
In 1961, Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ won the Pulitzer Prize. It went on to become well known as an example of modern American literature. Taught in schools all over the US and the UK, there was a time when almost everyone I knew had read this classic tale of racism, crime, and courtroom procedures. Depicting the deep South of the USA during a period when the country was in the midst of change, and populated with rich characters, who spring to life from the pages. The book feels as relevant today as it ever did, and still attracts a huge readership. It was made into a very popular film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck.
On to a book that divides the literary audience. ‘Lolita’ is a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, dealing with the uncomfortable subject of a man’s attraction to an underage girl. Humbert Humbert becomes involved with the mother of Dolores, in order to gain access to her precocious 12 year-old daughter, who he later begins a sexual relationship with, giving her the name ‘Lolita’. After the death of her mother, Humbert takes the girl on a trip across the country, controlling her life in every way that he can. The subject matter of this book is understandably disturbing to many, for obvious reasons. However, it remains as a compelling novel about obsession, and has been filmed twice, most notably by Stanley Kubrick, in 1962.
As a boy, I was fascinated by the historical novel, ‘The Last of The Mohicans’, by James Fenimore Cooper. Published in 1826, it is set during the turbulent times of the wars between France and Britain on the American continent, and the involvement of Native American tribes, on both sides. I even had a toy flintlock rifle, like the kind used by ‘Hawkeye’, the mixed race hero. This book has so much history on its pages, and the exciting events surrounding the battles are rich in detail and characterisation. I discovered more about the Seven Years War and the various Native American tribes from this book, than I would ever have bothered to learn from a dry non-fiction account. I haven’t read it again since, but I did watch the long-running TV series based on the book, as well as the superb film adaptation from 1992, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Being acclaimed as one of the longest novels ever written, the huge work from Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables’ is a far from easy read, believe me. I struggled with this famous book in my late teens, although I did manage to finish it. These days, many know the story based on numerous film and stage adaptations, as well as the notable long-running musical production. But this very long book has huge scope, exploring a long period in French history, social inequality, crime and redemption, and the uprising in 1832. It is fascinating in parts, though overwhelmed by excessive description at times too. Only for those with a real interest in the period, and the stamina for almost 1,500 pages.
My top pick for today is a novel I studied at school, and has stayed in my mind ever since. ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding was published in 1954, some nine years before I was introduced to it in my English class. The plot is rather fantastic, dealing with a group of stranded schoolboys after their aircraft crashes on a remote Pacific island, during WW2. But what follows is a fascinating look at the mentality of a group, and their efforts to survive without adult supervision. The reader is soon swept up in the characters that stand out from the group of boys. They display all the best and worst characteristics of human nature, from cruelty to communal effort, and from the exclusion of some, to the laziness of others. Golding uses this situation as a convincing allegory of just about every social situation imaginable, and we can all see something of ourselves in one or another of the boys. This book has also been filmed, with the best version from 1963, starring James Aubrey as Ralph.