Passing through the maze of lounge chairs at the beach or pool this summer, one best seller and its sequels appear like spots under beach umbrellas; black-sheened paperbacks in the hands of plenty of reclining, rapt women.
The Great Debate
By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.
Nothing can be more nationally rooted than the novel. Recall your mental images of the squalid alleys of Dickensian London and the stormy moors of the Brontes (both Emily’s and Charlotte’s, the latter beautifully photographed in the latest film reworking of “Jane Eyre”); the narrow streets and minds of the Norman towns in which Gustave Flaubert’s Emma Bovary’s yearning for romance is broken and the gilded salons of Paris where Eugenie de Balzac’s heroes claw, or fail to claw, their way up the social scale; the field of Borodino where Tolstoy had Pierre Bezhukov put face to face with carnage of war, and the crumbling slums of Petersburg where Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov commits his crime and suffers his punishment. These are part of the reader’s mental furniture, imagined and re-imagined millions of times down the decades, but always seen as inextricably of their place; places which take on characters of their own, malign or comforting.