My Favourite Novel
Constellations, Issue 5
Faculty from the English Department share with us their favourite novel that inspired them with a love of literature from an early age.
“Growing up, one of my all-time favourite book series was J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was entirely immersed in the amazing world that he created, to the point of attempting to learn some of the languages Tolkien came up with. I even tried to write my own version of it at 13 and was 10,000 words in before I gave up! I loved (and continue to love) the trilogy for the experience it afforded me; and for its masterful depiction of the age-old battle between good and evil, the importance of fellowship, and the potential of the everyday ordinary person to do significant good. I still go back to the books once in a while, and every year, my brother and I re-watch Peter Jackson’s movies—extended editions, of course!”
Cheryl Julia Lee, Assistant Professor
“Finishing a book has always been a bittersweet experience because I have to say goodbye to a storyworld that has given me so many hours of pleasure. Like others who love reading fiction, I suppose what I wanted was a book that didn’t have to end: a storyworld that I could inhabit a while longer or one that I could revisit over and over again in different guises (which is probably the same sort of fascination television serials and movie franchises hold for us). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: Complete Illustrated Stories was the longest book of fiction in my home at the time and fed my appetite for a storyworld that kept going. I started reading them when I was quite young and it must have taken me years to finish all 56 short stories. I loved exploring London and the English countryside with Holmes, and was enthralled by Sidney Paget’s illustrations from The Strand.”
Michelle Wang, Assistant Professor
“Given the idea is ‘to feature favourite novels’, it hasn’t been easy to come up with a ‘favourite book’ from my pre-university years. The reason being that poetry, not fiction, was what I chiefly read as a student! With effort, memory lifted into view a small 6” x 4”, stained, faded, magenta-coloured copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (serialized 1860-61). Favourite or not, this is a novel I’ve had cause to read on and off past the 1950s. At the time, one of its appeals was the seamy side to white Australian history which it opened up for me. More importantly, Great Expectations made me laugh and worried me. And still does. I find it exuberantly inventive with its admixture of narrative modes – crime fiction, fantasy, realist text, love story, bildungsroman; its wide range of textual spaces – marshes, river, prison-ships, Gothic interiors, city streets, law courts; its boldly delineated characters, all of whom have, in varying degrees about them, elements of the bizarre crossed with the familiar – convicts, vengeful females, innocent village blacksmith, hangers-on of the legal system. The phrase, ‘larger than life’, is generally used of Dickens’ writing. It’s a narrative technique that has worked for me. And yet, even in those student days, could anything have come across as more fine and incisive in its telling of a society blighted with the power of money as the brief scene in which Pip attempts to return the two pounds he feels he owes Magwitch – all the while self-consciously pleased that the notes he owns are new and clean and, hence, distinct from the grubby equivalents the convict had years ago given the boy who helped him and whom he would, when ‘down under’, set out to make ‘his’ gentleman.”
Shirley Chew, Adjunct Professor
“I’d have to say Henri Charriere’s Papillon is the first book that comes to mind. It’s an out-and-out adventure story – or series of adventure stories – about his time as a convict in a South American penal colony. Charriere said that 75% of the book was true, and he gives us the impression by his direct prose that recounting this narrative straight from memory is all very easy and natural – maybe so, but it is masterful control of character and suspense.”
Barrie Sherwood, Assistant Professor
My first ever book was a collection of nursery rhymes, given to me when I was a baby. They taught me to read at an early age and inspired me with a love of literature. I’m still not sure why they would be an effective teaching tool, bearing in mind that nursery rhymes contain a great deal of low frequency words such as ‘Humpty’ and ‘Dumpty’. Nevertheless, as a good post-structuralist, I eventually deconstructed the text, quite literally. Because I loved reading so much, the spine corroded to the extent that it can barely be classified as a book today.
Before entering university, my favourite book was probably Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, about the life of Sophie Fevvers, a woman who may or may not have been hatched from an egg and sporting wings that enable her to become a celebrated aerialiste. The wings are representative of Fevvers’s attempts to be free from the constraints of patriarchal society, although there is some debate over how feminist the text really is. This is a magical realist text that troubles the boundary between representation and reality and denies the reader any absolutes.
Carter was renowned for her skill in rewriting fairy tales such as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Puss in Boots’ to reveal their dark latent content, most notably in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. Looking back now, there does seem to be a clear trajectory from my early love of nursery rhymes to deconstructed fairy tales that was later embellished and honed by pursuing a degree in English literature!
Graham Matthews, Assistant Professor