Today we’re joined by Moira Forsyth who as well as a long-established author is the editorial director of the excellent Sandstone Press. Sandstone are a great example of an indie publishing house that is really rooted in its community – see this interview here – but you should check out Moira’s own work which ranges from novels to short stories and poems. Her latest novel, A Message from the Other Side, is out next month. Here are her choices:
The Magus by John Fowles
When you’re young, books swallow you up: you become part of a world at once dreamlike and more real than your own life. As students, my best friend and I read The Magus at the same time, discussing it endlessly. It influenced her so much she went to live in Greece. It was Fowles’s first novel, the third to be published, and he revised it several times, the final edition coming out in 1977.
Nicholas Urfe, selfish and self-centred, begins his journey of self-discovery on a remote Greek island, when he sees a mysterious sign in a wood, and follows it to the ‘Waiting Room’. Little does he realise what challenges he’ll face, or that increasingly bizarre masquerades will make his angry, puzzled way towards the truth difficult and dangerous. The mysterious Maurice Conchis, magician and fraud, friend and his tormentor, is apparently pulling the strings. In the end, Nicholas, like the rest of us, is alone and must decide his own fate. Coming back to it recently, many years older, I found it a more problematic novel, and was less willing to go along with the plot, but it retains its imaginative power, and keeps you reading.
Selected Stories by Katherine Mansfield
Virginia Woolf admitted to being jealous of one other author – Katherine Mansfield. I can understand why. She can render precisely how things feel and look and sound. In her two long stories, based on her childhood in New Zealand, Prelude and At the Bay, she slips in and out of the consciousness of each character. Her writing is sophisticated and skilful, yet deceptively simple, alight with humour and vivid with detail. The sea, the sky, the children running up the beach, Beryl admiring herself in the glass and longing for love, Mrs Fairfield and Kezia her granddaughter tickling each other and laughing… I love to revisit them, and my only regret is that both these long stories are unfinished, part of a much longer work Mansfield did not live to complete. She was only thirty-four when she died.
Here’s an edition which includes the two stories mentioned plus some critical essays.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Everyone can name their desert island book, and this is probably mine. It has everything – rich characters, a strong sense of place and a tightly wrought story. Though Eliot can be a bit prosy (see Daniel Deronda – brilliant in parts but not nearly so successful), here her sure touch lights on one character after another, sees them clearly and with sympathy, yet reveals their faults and limitations. There are several plot strands woven together to reach, eventually, a satisfying conclusion. Good people make foolish choices – the idealistic Dorothea marries Casaubon, believing him to be a great man, but he is narrow and cold, and his academic studies lead nowhere. Lydgate, the idealistic young doctor, marries vain and selfish Rosamund, seduced by her beauty. Fred is persuaded into studying to be a clergyman, when all he wants is to be outdoors and active. Even the shallowest characters change and grow, and those we laugh at also make us feel pity. My edition is an ancient Signet paperback, but I wouldn’t change it for a smart new one – it reminds me I’ve lived with Middlemarch a long time!
Thanks, Moira, for these choices and especially for reminding us that the best titles remain with us for life! A Message from the Other Side looks rather intriguing and is out on 20 July: you can pre-order it now.
Oh yes, definitely Katharine Mansfield. Perfection distilled.