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Anthony Powell

PG Wodehouse

Thomas Hardy

John Irving

Graham Greene

Iris Murdoch



Book Circle member Peter Davies described at our March meeting how his favourite writers – including Anthony Powell, PG Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy and John Irving -- take their readers into their particular, distinctive worlds through memorable protagonists, recurring casts of characters and recurring locations. In the world of crime fiction, central figures might be eccentric (think Poirot, Marples, Holmes) or dysfunctional (e.g. Rebus, Morse), but whatever their nature, they do not change from one book to the next (with the notable exception of Sherlock). ‘Marple’s quaint village contrasts with her intelligence’, he noted; ‘she, like Morse, is introverted, agonized, intellectual’, and thus memorable. These writers, and such others as Ian Rankin, Peter Ackroyd and PD James, create settings that are not just settings, but characters in their own right.

Peter then focused on two writers, Graham Greene and Iris Murdoch, in whose novels the shared themes of love, guilt, despair and morality, or the lack of it, recur. Greene, a ‘determined womanizer’ and opium devotee, was an apologist for Kim Philby but most definitely not the ‘Catholic novelist’ of which he has been accused – although other accusations, such as his repeated use of stereotypes, may be more difficult to refute. A closeted autobiographer, Greene took his readers on ‘uncomfortable journeys to dark places’; to ‘wild and dangerous regions of the world’ and to ‘morally dubious corners’ of his personal and literary universe, ‘Greeneland’. 

As to Murdoch (whose novels should be read in the order they were written, according to Peter), she had a weakness for exotic names for her characters, who always included ‘one sinister guy’ and leaned heavily towards civil servants (which she had been in the war). She was obsessed with specifying where people lived – not surprising, given her heightened sense of place – and with telling the truth. Related themes were unacknowledged affairs and unrequited love, particularly among the upper middle class. Children were all obnoxious in the Murdoch world, and precociously clever, probably as she herself was; Peter termed her ‘a word child’, good at dialogue.

Several Book Circle members then talked about other writers and their worlds. Jeff Lee read three extracts and asked us to name the writers, which the well-read members of Book Circle easily did as Edgar Allan Poe, TE Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. Sam Laird spoke of detective novels set in Scotland and the US, Moira John praised Sebastian Barry and his creation, the McNulty family, and Jean Hilder mentioned Elena Ferranti's Naples and Paul Scott's India.

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