Please continue to play along. Add any choice of book title, or the name of an author whose work you enjoy, as long as it begins with ‘O’.
Given the current world situation, Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel ‘On The Beach’ may well be an appropriate title to start ‘O’ with. This is a post-apocalyptic tale, imagining a nuclear war has happened in the northern hemisphere. It is set in Melbourne, Australia, as a variety of characters await the impending doom of the nuclear fallout reaching their country. After receiving a morse code message from the US coast, a submarine is sent to investigate. This happens to be an American submarine that was in Australian waters at the time war broke out. When they arrive, they find nothing left, and the message proves to be a mechanical error. This is a far from uplifting read. Written during the Cold War, when such events seemed all-too possible, Shute offers no comfort, and nothing like a happy ending at all. It was made into a film two years later, starring Gregory Peck, and Ava Gardner.
Although not a novelist, Wilfred Owen left us with some of the most moving poetry about the experience of war, written during his service on the Western Front. At a time when much of the world is commemorating the centenary of that war, it seems appropriate to mention his moving poems, including the famous ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. He was killed in action exactly one week before the end of the war, in November 1918.
Another from novelist Frederick Forsyth, and one I couldn’t put down at the time. In 1972, he published ‘The Odessa File’, a cracking thriller that centres around Peter Miller, a young journalist who discovers a secret organisation still existing in Germany, in 1963. This organisation goes by the code name of Odessa, and is made up of former SS soldiers, determined to protect their members from any retribution for war crimes. Miller decides to infiltrate the group and expose them, helped by Israeli agents from their secret service, Mossad. This is a really exciting read, with Miller suspected, chased, and betrayed, and builds to a satisfying climax at the palatial home of a wealthy German industrialist, who is also a member of Odessa.
‘The Onion Field’ is a non-fiction book by Joseph Wambugh, published in 1973. It looks at the true-life event of the kidnapping of two LAPD police officers following a traffic stop, in 1963. They are driven to an onion field in Bakersfield, where one officer is killed, though the other manages to escape. This event was widely covered at the time, and caused much controversy, including a review of the laws on kidnapping. Wambaugh was a former police officer, and his eye for procedure and detail comes across in this powerful book. In 1979, it was adapted into an equally powerful film, starring John Savage, Ted Danson, and James Woods.
For my top pick today, I turn once again to the work of Charles Dickens, and his marvellous novel, ‘Oliver Twist’. Although filmed and serialised many times, as well as forming the basis for the successful stage musical, ‘Oliver’, nothing compares to actually reading the book. This tale of a young boy who falls into the clutches of The Artful Dodger, and is trained to become a thief by the oily Fagin never feels stale, no matter how many times you read it, or watch one of the adaptations. The vicious criminal Bill Sykes, with his fierce dog, ‘Bullseye’, the badly treated but kind-hearted Nancy, and the kindly Mr Brownlow. The awful Mr Bumble, and the undertaker Mr Sowerberry. All these characters are never forgotten, after reading Dickens’ excellent descriptions. The harsh conditions of Victorian England, from life in a Workhouse, to trying to get by on the streets, are all faithfully documented too. I cannot imagine that there is anyone left who has neither read the book, nor seen one of the films. But if that is you, then I urge you to read it at the earliest opportunity.