Sandra from the lovely blog A Corner of Cornwall tagged me for this at a time when I was extremely busy and technology-less, but it’s an intriguing idea. Like Sandra, I initially thought I didn’t read much historical fiction, so it wouldn’t apply to me, but the more you think about it… The original idea, by the way, comes from The Library Lizard, and you can answer as many or as few of the questions as you like, which makes it sound easy enough, right?
Medieval European courts – the Borgias, the Knights Templar, monks misbehaving in monasteries – you get the gist. As a child, I just couldn’t get enough of Jean Plaidy’s historical novels, or The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I suppose the latter two were the Dan Brown of their day, only much better written.
WHAT WRITER/S WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL BACK IN TIME TO MEET?
So many. I think Christopher Marlowe would have been quite fun (with or without Shakespeare in tow) and Chaucer sounds like the kind of guy you would love to go to the pub with, who could tell you plenty of gossipy stories.
I would also love to meet some of my great literary heroines, like Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, but I would probably be completely tongue-tied and fangirling like mad. (And I dread to think what their sharp observational skills and merciless tongues would make of their encounter with me.)
WHAT BOOK/S WOULD YOU TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AND GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
I used to read a lot more widely when I was younger, and books which were by no means appropriate for my age, so I’m tempted to say not much. But there are some wonderful children’s books which were published after the end of my childhood, which I think I would have enjoyed more back then: most of Diana Wynn Jones, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson, Neil Gaiman.
WHAT BOOK/S WOULD YOU TRAVEL FORWARD IN TIME AND GIVE TO YOUR OLDER SELF?
At the same time, I can see myself reverting back to the classics and rereading old favourites when I grow old. I will also find comfort no doubt in the essays on ageing, loss, finding some kind of contentment and surviving of more or less feminist writers such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron. And of course, lots of poetry.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK THAT IS SET IN A DIFFERENT TIME PERIOD (CAN BE HISTORICAL OR FUTURISTIC)?
I’ve never been very good at selecting just one or two books when it comes to such questions. Besides, I always think of at least half a dozen even better choices after I’ve given my final answers. So here is a small sample:
Orwell’s 1984 seems futuristic, and probably was at the time it was published, but I’ve lived through a period and in a country which was very, very similar to it, so it is simultaneously historical to me.
I also loved all of the Alexandre Dumas books when I was a child and played at being the Three/Four Musketeers with my cousins during our endless summer holidays (I was always a fan of Aramis, by the way, and am pleased to see that the recent TV adaptation has him every bit as seductive as I imagined him/myself to be at the time). Nowadays, however, I probably prefer The Count of Monte Cristo.
There are also a small number of books about war which really marked me: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Liviu Rebreanu’s Forest of the Hanged, for non-English perspectives on the First World War; Michio Takeyama’s Harp of Burma and Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain for the humble ordinary Japanese person’s perspective on World War Two.
Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy is also about WW2, but from the civilian perspective, showing the whole political, diplomatic and social lead-up to the war. Frightening, because it still feels so relevant today.
I can’t say I loved them, it’s more that they shattered me. I think they should be required reading for all those who decide to go to war with such gung-ho spirit (and I simply cannot believe that Donald Trump selected the Remarque book as one of his favourites).
SPOILER TIME: DO YOU EVER SKIP AHEAD TO THE END OF A BOOK JUST TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS?
I may have done this on occasion… (mumble, mumble, hangs head in shame). But I am quite scrupulous about only reading the last 2-3 paragraphs, so usually I don’t really understand what is going on. That is why I appreciate books which don’t have a major twist or denouement on the very last page.
IF YOU HAD A TIME TURNER, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
I may enjoy reading about the cruelty and backstabbing of medieval European courts, but I wouldn’t want to go live there. I think I might have enjoyed working in the laboratory Madame du Chatelet and Voltaire created together at her chateau in Cirey-sur-Blaise, or else join Voltaire a few years later at his chateau in Ferney and be a much more witty and well-read companion in his old age than his rather frivolous niece Mme Denis.
FAVOURITE BOOK (IF YOU HAVE ONE) THAT INCLUDES TIME TRAVEL OR TAKES PLACE IN MULTIPLE TIME PERIODS?
For a while I couldn’t think of any, as I’ve avoided books such as The Time Traveller’s Wife (call me prejudiced, but it feels more like Dr Who episode than a novel I could lose myself in). But then I realised that I do have an old favourite: Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is very funny and clever, and also a scathing satire of American and British society and politics of the late 19th century. Another book which remains hugely relevant still today (sadly) and which deserves to be far better known. I can feel an urge to reread it coming on…
WHAT BOOK/SERIES DO YOU WISH YOU COULD GO BACK AND READ AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Probably most of the crime fiction series I like, since once you’ve read them, you can never ‘unknow’ the perpetrator and the plot twists (although in my pre-reviewing days, I have on occasion borrowed a book from the library and wondered why it seemed vaguely familiar, only to discover right at the end that I had in fact read it before). A moment of silence please for the awe-inspiring Martin Beck series.