I’m sure many people (UK-based at least!) are familiar with the long-running radio series Desert Island Discs – where notable guests are invited to select the eight tracks (mainly songs) they would choose to take if they were stranded on a desert island, along with a book and a luxury item (purely non-practical).
Well… as books are more my thing, I thought I’d see if I could pick eight of these to take instead… And it turns out, I could not!
So this post represents ‘part one’ of my desert island selections – the eight standalones! As so many of the books I enjoy, particularly in the fantasy genre, are part of a larger ongoing story, and I couldn’t possibly pick out just one volume from amongst them, in a future post I’ll talk about my eight favourite series. Cheating, I know, but how could I miss out so many great stories?!
I’m sure I’ll change my mind about this, but here are my choices for the eight standalone books I couldn’t be without, roughly (although I can’t swear to it!) in the order I first read them. Enjoy!
1) Ludo and the Star Horse – by Mary Stewart (1974)
I actually first listened to this lovely children’s book as a book on cassette, narrated by the wonderful Paul Eddington. It tells the story of young boy Ludo travelling through the Star Countries – or houses of the Zodiac – in an attempt to help his faithful horse Renti catch up with the sun and become one of the star horses pulling the sun’s chariot. I have very fond memories of listening to this on long car journeys, and for me it’s the perfect story of loyalty and friendship.
2) The ABC Murders – by Agatha Christie (1936)
I’m not certain this was the first Christie book I read, but it was certainly one of the early ones. Although perhaps not as famous as some other Poirot novels (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Murder in the Orient Express), this has everything for me – Poirot (somewhat) ably assisted by Hastings and Japp, a great cast of characters and a wonderful example of a Christie twist ending. I also really like the David Suchet adaptation of this, which captures the story perfectly (although not the more recent BBC adaptation – too many liberties taken with the plot for my liking!).
3) Jane Eyre – by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
I don’t think there’s much justification required for this one! One of the best gothic novels of all time, and my favourite of the Brontë novels. Jane’s struggle for independence and to find a place where she is loved and appreciated for who she is makes her one of my all-time favourite characters.
4) Pride and Prejudice – by Jane Austen (1813)
Another classic that needs no introduction, and another great heroine in Elizabeth Bennet. The novel’s famous opening line of “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” is the perfect start to a story of love, misunderstanding, comedy and family drama, and it also includes one of my all-time favourite comic characters, Mr Collins!
5) Rebecca – by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Gothic fiction is a favourite of mine, and this is another wonderful one. Following a precipitous marriage, the young, un-named narrator travels to her new husband’s home where it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. The brooding atmosphere of Manderley, the menacing housekeeper Mrs Danvers, and the mystery surrounding her husband’s first wife Rebecca all conspire to create a classic gothic tale. This is also another novel with a brilliant, scene-setting opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
6) Kafka on the Shore – by Haruki Murakami (2002)
On writing out my list, I’ve realised that this is the only novel in my eight written by a male author! Murakami is a master of his art, and I love his blend of magic and surrealism amongst the every day. I’ve enjoyed many of his books, but I’d pick this as my favourite for capturing everything I love about Murakami – a meandering, surreal but compelling plot, a likeable main character and a good smattering of cats.
7) The Diary of a Provincial Lady – by E. M. Delafield (1930)
I found this novel while browsing in a bookshop one day without having heard of it before. On reading the blurb, I suspected it would be one I would love – and I wasn’t disappointed! This volume comprises the original Diary, along with the sequels; set between the wars, it chronicles the life of the titular provincial lady in the form of her diary, having to cope with everything from a difficult cook to the blitz. It is apparently largely autobiographical, and is one of the funniest books I’ve read.
8) The Daughter of Time – by Josephine Tey (1951)
Despite being a huge fan of golden age mysteries, I actually only started reading Josephine Tey last year, when I came across an article on this title being number one in the Crime Writers’ Association’s Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. The novel features Tey regular Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, who is laid up in hospital with a broken leg. By way of distraction, he attempts to solve the case of the disappearance of the princes in the tower, and whether King Richard III was actually guilty of their murders in the 15th Century. I found everything about this book charming, and a very different type of murder mystery to any I’ve read before. I’m sure I will enjoy coming back to this many times on my island.
So there we have it! In true Desert Island Discs style, if I had to choose one song, I’d go with ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet (good memories of cheesy discos, including my own wedding reception, and never fails to cheer me up!), and for my luxury item I’ll take a bed – I can’t (won’t) camp! And if I had to save one book from the waves, I’ll go with Ludo and the Star Horse – a lovely, uplifting story that brings back the best memories. Let me know if any of these would make it onto your desert island! What else would be on your list?