Well I’ve still been thinking, on and off, about that list of ten books to explain the UK. Which is an interesting exercise.
I quickly decided to eliminate Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Not that I have anything against the Celtic Fringe, but it was complicated enough dealing with Englishness. There’s no difficulty in finding ten books all of which have some characteristically English quality to them; it’s getting some kind of balance to them as a list. For example Brideshead Revisited, Crome Yellow, Love in a Cold Climate, Summer Lightning, The Complete Saki and The Importance of Being Ernest are all in their way very English*, but they don’t exactly represent a very broad range of Englishnesses. And then there are cases like Gerard Manley Hopkins. He’s possibly my favourite poet, but as a Jesuit priest and radical poetic innovator I can hardly claim him as representative or typical.
I’m probably over-analysing again.
One thing that becomes apparent is that I don’t read enough contemporary fiction. I mean, over the years I have read quite a lot of it, but not a lot of books from the past few decades seem to be springing to mind at the moment.
I find myself drawn to books by and about English people but set abroad – A Passage to India, My Family and Other Animals, Our Man In Havana, Into The Heart of Borneo. Perhaps because the Englishness of the characters is set into relief. The flipside would be books about England written by foreigners: Voltaire, Conrad, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, even Bill Bryson.
I’m still thinking.
* yes, I do know that Wilde was Irish