While each year I read dozens of excellent and memorable books, there are few that I feel compelled to reread. There are a handful, though, that I keep coming back to. No doubt the primary reason for re-reading is that these particular books have an emotional appeal. There is the added delight of discovering new layers within the story each time I reread whether it is the depth of characterization, the plotting or the beauty of the prose.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Read five times
Scarlett O’Hara is the spoilt daughter of a plantation owner when the novel begins at the start of the American Civil War, by its end she has lost nearly everything. At both personal and emotional cost, Scarlett struggles to get back something of that life. ‘If I have to steal or kill – as God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again.’
I read this book in three days when I was fourteen, after seeing the film which I have seen about six times.
The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Read four times
Antoinette Bertha Cossway, a West Indian heiress, is married to an English gentleman who rejects her, declares her mad, takes her to England and locks her in an attic. A re-imagining of the life of Bertha Mason, the wife of Rochester in Jane Eyre, told in multiple voices. Can be read without any knowledge of Jane Eyre.
I read this twice in two days the first time. It turned on its head everything I thought could be done with fiction. Absolutely brilliant! Avoid any film adaptation – I have seen them all and they are utter tripe.
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman – Read three times
Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John is married off to Llewellyn Ab Iowerth, Prince of Gwynedd, John’s sometimes enemy who is battling to prevent England’s conquest of Wales. I love Penman’s imagining of Joanna so much that I get very irritated with any other author who presents her in a different way. I was so enthralled the first time I read the book that the children could have been killing each other and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis – Read three times
Set in Anatolia in the 1920s under Turkish rule, Christ Recrucified tells the story of Manolios, a shepherd, chosen to play the part of Christ in the village’s Passion Play. With the arrival of a group of refugees whose village has been destroyed by the Turks, the lives of those chosen to take part in the play come to parallel Christ’s passion.
I first read this is my late teens after seeing the the 1957 film Celui qui doit mourir (He who Must Die) at school in a French class.
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden – Read twice
A group of Anglican nuns are invited to set up a school and dispensary in an old palace, formerly a harem, in the Himalayas. The isolation, loneliness, the wind and the beauty of the place unsettle them as they struggle to help the villagers and maintain their own faith.
This is another book read after seeing the film. The 1957 film starring Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons is stunningly beautiful if a little melodramatic towards the end.
I could add the Crawford of Lymond and House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett as I have read both series twice (fourteen books overall). One day I will read them again but I find them so compelling that they completely take over my imagination leaving room for nothing else, and that would be the end of my own writing for nearly six months.