When a good friend recommends a book, you listen. Some of my favourite reads have been pressed on me by friends. And I remember the shared incredulity when a close friend and I realised we both loved one particular author and had neglected to mention it to the other.
I discovered Jan Mark thanks to Robin Klein, who was my absolute favourite Australian children’s author growing up. I discovered Robin through my friend Cassandra Golds and the team at The School Magazine, which has been recommending brilliant books to children in New South Wales for a hundred years.
The Australian writer Robin Klein, who introduced me to Jan Mark.
More recently, I discovered Iris Murdoch through Anne Tyler and Sophie Hannah. Now, I’d always known about Murdoch, but had never found a way in. And then I read a small paragraph in the Guardian in which Anne Tyler wrote about A Word Child …
‘I love this book. I consider it an exceptionally warm novel – not an adjective you’d usually associate with an author as cerebral as Murdoch … what fixed it in my mind forever was the breathtaking moment when the entire pattern of her hero’s life was revealed for the first time.’
Tyler didn’t disclose that moment, because she wanted people to discover it, and nor will I – except to say it is breathtaking and a formidable piece of plotting.
Reading Iris Murdoch has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I’ve still read very few of her books, perhaps one per summer when I have time on holiday to immerse myself in the thoroughness of her worlds. I have time to grapple with the philosophy – just – but also the complexity of characters.
My second Iris Murdoch was The Black Prince, which came by way of Sophie Hannah, who described it as ‘the all-round best novel I have ever read’. She went on to say:
‘Only at the end of the book does the reader discover that it’s also a highly original mystery/crime novel … We know that someone has been murdered and someone is a murderer, but no definite solution is provided … It is up to the reader to decide which voice he or she wants to listen to … Murdoch makes this seem right and proper, because by the time you get to the end, you believe in the world the book has created to such an extent that a neat ending would appear artificial.’
I chose The Bell for my third read, and have several others lined up. I can’t wait to read them. Is it summer yet?
How do you respond to friends’ recommendations? When have you been delighted or disappointed? Or do you prefer to secretly discover books yourself?