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A Year of Books
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There are so many characters in literature that set our hearts aflutter. But what about the ones that really rile us, that make our skin crawl or have us wanting to throw the book at the wall out of frustration or exasperation? This year, rather than tell us which fictional character they'd like to accompany them to the beach, we asked some of our favourite authors about the ones they'd happily cast out to sea, leave on the beach or drown in a rock pool… you get the idea! Who would you like to leave behind?

Rob Biddulph | Gyles Brandreth | Joanna Cannon | Daryl Gregory | Rachel Joyce | Tim Pears | Holly Smale | Susie Steiner | Tor Udall | Louise Welsh

 

 

ROB BIDDULPH

 

Rob BiddulphCover of MatildaIt is a truth universally acknowledged that children’s books have the best baddies. In fact, they have played host to so many absolute rotters over the years that it’s virtually impossible to pick which one is the best, er, worst. I mean, of course Lord Voldemort from the Potter books is thoroughly loathsome. It’s beyond doubt that CS Lewis’s White Witch is a first class d-bag. And obviously Bill Sykes could do with a right royal kick up the bullseye. But could I choose which kidlit villain is my “favourite”? No way. And then I remembered...

There is one character that (literally) stands head and shoulders above all other pretenders to the throne. Someone so evil, so self-absorbed, so totally and utterly ruthless that she makes Count Olaf look like one of those really cute pandas going down slides that you see on YouTube. That’s right. I’m talking about Agatha Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Oh, how I despise her. And not because of the continual attempts to crush Matilda’s burgeoning creativity at every turn. Not because of the terrible bullying of her niece, Miss Honey. Not even because of the psychologically damaging torture of poor Bruce Bogtrotter (although admittedly, death by chocolate cake would probably be my preferred method of execution). No. It’s because of the socks. Knee-high and, gulp, grey. Unimaginably despicable.

Just in case this isn’t enough evidence to rubber-stamp my choice, let’s check her credentials against the bad-guy ticklist:

Unnecessarily cruel on a regular basis. Tick.

Bad personal hygiene. Tick.

Favours the use of medieval torture equipment in schools. Tick.

Picks up children by their pigtails and throws them very long distances. Tick.

Murders people. Tick.

Kicks cats. Tick.

So there you have it. It’s pretty conclusive. She wins. Miss Trunchbull is definitely the baddest baddie of all time. And she wears the worst socks.

Rob Biddulph's picture books include Blown Away, starring Penguin Blue, and Odd Dog Out. His new book, Kevin, is published on 10th August.

 

 

GYLES BRANDRETH

 

Gyles BrandrethCover of Pride and PrejudiceWhich fictional character would I cast out to sea, leave on the beach or drown in a rock pool? That’s the question.  And I have the answer. And it takes me back to the first grown-up novel that I remember reading. I can’t remember what age I was - in my early teens I suppose. I know that I had graduated from Enid Blyton (I loved The Faraway Tree) and the Adventures of Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School by Frank Richards; I had moved through the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (though I don’t think you ever grow out of them); and I had discovered Jane Austen! I read Pride and Prejudice and I could not put it down. I loved everything about it – the world of the Bennett family, the humour of it, the romance - but most especially, of course, I loved Mr Darcy.  He was devilishly handsome, absurdly arrogant and my idea (everybody’s idea!) of an English romantic hero.

In fact, I realise I must have been fourteen at the time and the reason I loved the novel so much was that I convinced myself that I was Mr Darcy!

And then, at school, we put on a stage version of Pride and Prejudice and I went to the auditions with high hopes and great expectations and – yes, you’ve guessed it - I was cast, not as Mr Darcy, but as the ridiculous, pompous, po-faced, vain and vain-glorious clergyman, Mr Collins.  I couldn’t believe it.  Half a century on, I still can’t believe it.  But from that moment, I turned on Mr Darcy. I had loved him. Now I loathed him. And I’ve loathed him ever since. I don’t want to see Colin Firth (or anyone else) playing the part. I don’t want to see or hear or know or read anything more ever about Mr Darcy.  He may be your darling, dear reader. He’s not mine. Goodbye, Darcy.  I don’t want you in my world. I can’t stand the competition.

Writer, broadcaster and former MP Gyles Brandreth's many books include The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries. His latest novel is Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.

 

 

JOANNA CANNON

 

Joanna CannonCover of The Great GatsbyThe fictional character I’d cast out to sea would have to be Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. Shallow, greedy and fickle, with child-like mannerisms and feigned ignorance, Daisy’s one ambition in life appears to be ensuring her daughter grows up to be a ‘beautiful little fool’. Responsible for several tragedies in the novel, Daisy has often been described as the story’s true antagonist, and her personality and physical description continue to be symbolic of the dark side of America’s roaring twenties.

However, as much as I would love to drown Mrs Buchanan and her ridiculous ways in the nearest rock pool, perhaps the world warrants its fair share of Daisies after all. Daisy serves a purpose for us. She waves a red flag, warning of what might happen if we continue to worship at the altar of materialism. Her lack of responsibility and willingness to avoid blame are a caveat for modern life, lying within the pages of a 1920s novel. F Scott-Fitzgerald’s story has been criticised for being outdated, for representing a culture and an attitude far left behind, but you only have to glance through the pages of a newspaper or a magazine, to see that Daisy still walks amongst us. We may love to hate her. We may ridicule her lifestyle and her lack of moral fibre. But perhaps we need Daisy Buchanan more than we would ever care to admit. 

Joanna Cannon is the author of the highly acclaimed, bestselling novel, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, set in the long, hot summer of 1976. You can read an exclusive interview with her  here.

 

 

DARYL GREGORY

 

Daryl GregoryCover of Gulliver's TravelsLemuel Gulliver made a career out of being left behind on strange beaches. He was shipwrecked, ditched by his friends, marooned by pirates… and he refused to learn. Every time he managed to get home, he’d be back in the water a year or two later. There are fast food restaurants I won’t go back to because they served me cold fries, but Gulliver hopped on every boat he saw.

Like so many American children my age, I first met him in cartoon form, in Hanna-Barbera’s The Adventures of Gulliver. It was pretty much an all-Lilliput affair. I didn’t learn about Brobdingnag or the flying island of Laputa until I was assigned Swift’s book in Sophomore English class. Most of the political satire was lost on me, but what made the biggest impression was Gulliver’s existential crisis in his final voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms. Among those noble and gifted horses (they could knit with their hooves), Gulliver grew to detest his fellow humans. Those ignorant Yahoos disgusted him, and I understood how he felt: It was exactly like high school.

Jonathan Swift returns Gulliver to his home in a sorry state. The cheerful optimist of the first voyage has become a misanthrope, unable to tolerate human company, spending an inappropriate amount of time in the horse barns. Me, I got to go to college, fall in love, have children. I feel sorry for Lem — can I call him Lem? — and would love to send him back to the treacherous sea one more time, and hope he lands in a better place.

Daryl Gregory's novel, Spoonbenders, a story of family, growing up and loss, will be published on 24th August. You can read our blog about this unmissable book here.


 

RACHEL JOYCE

Rachel JoyceCover of Hangover SquareI don’t think I could deliberately push anyone out to sea or even drown them in a rock pool – and where would a good story be without someone really unpleasant getting in the way? Having said that, there are a few fictional characters who make me hot with rage.  So maybe I would at least trip them over in (fairly deep) briny water.

 

The woman that springs to my mind is Netta in Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. This is one of my favourite books. Set in Earls Court and Brighton in 1939 beneath the shadow of the Second World War, it is the perfect anti-romantic novel. Atmospheric, sad, funny and deeply involving – partly because the central character, George Harvey Bone, a giant of a man and a loner, prone to periods where he blanks out, is also slavishly devoted to a woman who is nothing but trouble. A would-be actress and the worst kind of social climber, Netta is one of the great seductive monsters of modern literature. She’s beautiful. She can be charming. Needy. But her sole pleasure seems to come from hurting and using other people; the more vulnerable, the more broken they are, the better. The woman has not one tiny moral bone in her body and every time George is fooled against his better judgment into trusting her, or giving her money, you find yourself screaming at the pages. "She was completely, indeed sinisterly devoid of all those qualities which her face and body externally proclaimed her to have - pensiveness, grace, warmth, agility, beauty ... Her thoughts resembled those of a fish.." And here is the real skill of the book: when George begins to plot killing her, and her vile Nazi thug of a boyfriend, you find yourself thinking, ‘Yes. Great idea. Why not?’

 

Oh go on. Scruples aside. Let’s drown her in a rock pool.

Rachel Joyce burst onto the literary scene with the much-loved and highly acclaimed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Her latest novel, The Music Shop, has just been published. 

 

TIM PEARS

Tim PearsCover of Rough MusicThe chapters of Patrick Gale's Rough Music alternate a childhood Cornish holiday with ​a grown-up one thirty years later. Will and his parents appear in both eras, with various family members and intimates in one or the other. This small cast of characters, in their increasingly tangled and deepening relationships, absorb the reader utterly. Patrick Gale's mastery is a musical one, what feels like (but of course is anything but) effortless counterpoint; it’s as if one is reading a fugue that draws us on and on, through the lines of interconnected desires and evasions, ever deeper into the intractable difficulties of the human condition.

Will's mother, Frances, docile housewife, is the ticking human bomb in the novel. In the later time frame, she's suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and in her confusion causes a terrible rumpus – which may paradoxically turn out to liberating for those whose lives she turns upside down. But one feels so sorry for her, and those who love her. 

Frances is a strong swimmer, and I would not cast her out to sea but rather let her swim out, and keep swimming - as I would anyone in her position, and indeed might hope to myself when the time comes.

Tim Pears is the author of eight novels, including In the Place of Fallen Leaves. The Horseman has just been published in paperback.

 

HOLLY SMALE

Holly SmaleCover of HamletOf all the "heroes" in the Western literary canon, Hamlet is the one I love to bitch about at parties. 

We all know a Hamlet: they’re the colleague/friend/family member who somehow - with great skill and deftness - makes everything about them. Really, Hamlet should be a play about grief and vengeance: a father killed, a throne taken. But what we actually get is four hours of Hamlet, chatting about himself. Somebody else’s murder becomes about him. His mother’s remarriage becomes about him. He dumps his girlfriend with unnecessary cruelty, kills her dad, blames him for standing behind a curtain and then - shocker - makes it about him. He has his best friends from school sneakily murdered on a boat. Then his ex kills herself, having gone mad (thanks to being jilted and then orphaned) and Hamlet jumps into her grave and makes it about him without noticing that this time it’s actually about him.

Instead of a hero, with Hamlet what we have is a beautifully observed, entitled, self-absorbed, narcissistic and pontificating villain: a gorgeous and sweeping character study of the kind of man who stands in the corner at parties, wearing black and talking about how his unpublished novel is too deep for commercial success and how the publishing world just doesn’t “get” him. The point of Hamlet is not revenge or grief: it’s about how much Hamlet loves the sound of his own voice. So much so, in fact, that he’ll happily sit and talk to a skull.   

Luckily, once Hamlet has killed off a few more people (mother, step-father, his ex’s brother), we get our real hero: Fortinbras, arriving in style with an army to avenge his father’s death and get the job done without anywhere near as much whining. And Hamlet?

At least at the end he finally leaves us with silence.

Holly Smale is the author of the bestselling Geek Girl series, the final instalment of which, Forever Geek, is published in paperback this month. You can read an exclusive interview with Holly here.

 

SUSIE STEINER

Susie SteinerCover of David CopperfieldI would drown Uriah Heep in a rock pool, except I would miss the pleasure of Dickens’s creation in David Copperfield: the physical revulsion (“no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep” and “a long, lank, skeleton hand” – ew!) and the sheer fawning insincerity of this embezzling cuckoo.

The brilliance of Uriah, for he is a masterstroke of characterisation, is that we have all met one (or several, social media is awash with Uriahs, all false modesty and pretend admiration). Heep is a human type – very much alive and well, thriving wherever envy exists and envy is after all universal. Dickens describes Uriah as "looking up at us in the chaise" in his first encounter with David Copperfield and here is the rub with Uriah types: they pretend to look up in admiration when they are, in fact, out to destroy.

Take the humblebrag: Uriah would be a master of this. Take passive aggression, Uriah got there first. False modesty? Bow to the Heep.

When Manon recalls one of her worse Internet dates (and there is stiff competition for this accolade), at the start of Missing, Presumed, she recalls a man "giving it his best Uriah Heep". Her date gave off the stench of death, cadaverous just like Heep was, even at the age of fifteen when David Copperfield first meets him.

I think Dickens is saying something important about seeing through sycophancy and how it is wise to beware saccharine praise which disguises envious attack. You can go some way to protecting yourself from Uriahs if only you don’t believe a word they say.

#eversoumble

Susie Steiner's novels include Missing, Presumed and Homecoming Her latest book is Persons Unknown.

 

TOR UDALL

Tor UdallCover of The Great GatsbyI can imagine Tom Buchanan at the beach. This character from The Great Gatsby would play cricket, show off his aggressive bodyline bowling and holler as loudly as possible to get everyone’s attention. He wouldn’t care about kicking sand in a child’s face or knocking over a sandcastle. He’d make a big deal about his front crawl, his shoulder muscles, his designer trunks. If he looked at anyone, they would be a mere mirror for him to see his own reflection. Unless, of course, they were people of colour. That type shouldn’t even be allowed on the beach.

Yes, our dear Tom is a white supremacist. Born into money, he has absolute conviction in his superiority. Fearing the "lesser races" may knock him off his privileged pedestal, he casts himself as the last bastion of civilization. He will defend his God-given rights as a white, straight male at any cost.

An arrogant, self-righteous hypocrite, Tom is a wonderful role model for wholesome family values. He beats women, cheats on his wife and frames an innocent man for murder. He fights to keep Daisy not because he loves her. He simply cares about retaining what is his. Most importantly, he needs to win. As Trump would say, the worst insult you can throw is "LOSER!"

It is the sense of entitlement that infuriates me the most: the lack of empathy for any other human being, and the myopic stupidity that renders it impossible for him to understand anything beyond his own bubble of greed and competition. He cares little for the consequences of his actions. It doesn’t matter who is hurt, or even killed, as long as he triumphs. We see Tom Buchanan today in men like Trump, Trump Jr and Kushner – and the damage caused by these spoilt little boys is abhorrent.

I’d happily drive Buchanan’s head into a wall but men like Tom crave attention. The best thing would be to ignore him. I’d leave him stranded on the beach, turn my back as if he were an annoying bluebottle. But when the Tom Buchanans of this world form the US government, we ignore them at our peril. So yes, please, I would drown dear Tom in a rock pool.

Tor Udall's debut novel is A Thousand Paper Birds. an intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens. You can read an exclusive interview with her here.

 

LOUISE WELSH

Louise WelshCover of Breakfast at Tiffany'sBecoming a castaway is the making of some characters. Young Davie Balfour in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped has a grand adventure, Pi in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi manages not to get eaten by the tiger (one of my personal ambitions). It doesn’t work out so well for others. After being marooned for three years on Treasure Island Ben Gunn develops a craving for cheese. The boys in Lord of the Flies develop a craving for humiliation and violence.

I come from Scotland. The islands I imagine being shipwrecked on are rocky outcrops devoid of palm trees like Mary Shelley’s Hoy, where Victor Frankenstein begins work on a mate for his poor creature.

It is summer though, so I am going to go against type and choose a tropical island to shipwreck Truman Capote’s, Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly on. Holly will step blithely from the waves with barely a thought for the crew and passengers of the liner, sinking into the sea behind her. She will fashion something stylish from palm fronds, orchids and coconut shells (my vision of tropical islands tends towards cartoons and clichés) and then go in search of the makings of a cocktail.

Louise Welsh is the author of eight novels, including The Cutting Room. Her latest, No Dominion, is both a thriller and a love story set in a post-acopalyptic world.

 

 

Rob Biddulph

Matilda
(Paperback)
Roald Dahl; Quentin Blake
 
Matilda's mother spends all afternoon playing bingo. And Matilda's headmistress Miss Trunchbull? Well, she's the worst of all. She is a big bully, who thinks all her pupils are rotten...
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Kevin
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Rob Biddulph
 
The glorious new picture book from the bestselling, award-winning author of Blown Away and GRRRRR!, all about one boy, one Kevin, and one very special friendship...
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Gyles Brandreth

Pride and Prejudice
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Jane Austen
 
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that...
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Jack the Ripper: Case Closed
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Gyles Brandreth
 
Case Closed is Arthur Conan Doyle's account of the events of 1894, the year of the return of Jack the Ripper. Based on Oscar Wilde's real-life friendship with Conan Doyle...
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Joanna Cannon

The Great Gatsby
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F. Scott Fitzgerald; Tony Tanner; ...
 
Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby is the bright star of the Jazz Age, but as writer Nick Carraway is drawn into the decadent orbit of his Long Island...
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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
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Joanna Cannon
 
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER 'Part whodunnit, part coming of age, this is a gripping debut about the...
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Daryl Gregory

Gulliver's Travels
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Jonathan Swift
 
In the strange countries of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and the land of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver meets some extraordinary people and remarkable creatures. From a race of miniature folk to some...
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Spoonbenders
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Daryl Gregory
 
The Royal Tenenbaums with psychics - meet The Amazing Telemachus Family
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Rachel Joyce

Hangover Square
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Patrick Hamilton; Anthony Quinn
A pitch-black comedy set in London overshadowed by the looming threat of the Second World War, Hangover Square is a true classic.
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The Music Shop
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Rachel Joyce
1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk - as long as it's vinyl he sells it. Day...
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Tim Pears

Rough Music
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Patrick Gale
 
A gripping and unnerving story of a family's secrets and lies, from the bestselling author of `Notes from an Exhibition' and `A Perfectly Good Man'.
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The Horseman: The West Country Trilogy
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Tim Pears
 
From the prize-winning author of In the Place of Fallen Leaves comes a beautiful, hypnotic pastoral novel reminiscent of Thomas Hardy, about an unexpected friendship...
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Holly Smale

Hamlet
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William Shakespeare; Paul Prescott;...
 
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. When young prince Hamlet is confronted by his fathers ghost on the battlements of Castle Elsinore, he is burdened with a terrible...
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Forever Geek (Geek Girl, Book 6)
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Holly Smale
 
My name is Harriet Manners and I'll be a geek forever... The FINAL book in the bestselling, award-winning GEEK GIRL series is here!
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Susie Steiner

David Copperfield
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Charles Dickens
 
When David Copperfield escapes from the cruelty of his childhood home, he embarks on a journey to adulthood which will lead him through comedy and tragedy, love and heartbreak and...
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Persons Unknown: A Richard and Judy...
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Susie Steiner
 
SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER Brand new literary thriller from bestselling author of MISSING, PRESUMED Susie Steiner. ...
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Tor Udall

The Great Gatsby Film tie-in Edition:...
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F. Scott Fitzgerald
The official film edition including an exclusive interview with Baz Luhrmann. Now a major film by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.
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A Thousand Paper Birds
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Tor Udall
 
An intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens - an exquisite, strange and beautiful debut for fans of Alice ...
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Louise Welsh

Breakfast at Tiffany's
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Truman Capote
 
Meet Holly Golightly - a free spirited, lop-sided romantic girl about town. With her tousled blond hair and upturned nose, dark glasses and chic black dresses, Holly is a style...
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No Dominion: Plague Times Trilogy 3
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Louise Welsh
 
A thrilling novel from the author of A Lovely Way to Burn
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