Brisk and idiosyncratic

2011-04-20 00:00

NOVELIST Sebastian Faulks presented a television series in Britain, and this is the “book of the series”, Faulks’s views on characters in British fiction over the ages. It is, as is inevitable when celebrity presenters are tasked with giving their views on a slice of culture in the mass media, both brisk and idiosyncratic, making for an easy read in its book form, sometimes informative, sometimes rather odd, but nearly always entertaining. Though how many people will have read all the novels Faulks tackles, which include the monumental Clarissa (Samuel Richardson) and The Diary of a Nobody (George and Weedon Grossmith), is anybody’s guess.

Those he casts his eye upon include Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones ; Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes , Kingsley Amis’s Jim Dixon ; Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff; D.H. Lawrence’s Constance Chatterley; Alan Hollinghurst’s Nick Guest; Muriel Spark’s Jean Brodie; Charles Dickens’s Pip as well as his Fagin, and Paul Scott’s Ronald Merrick.

He divides his characters into Heroes, Lovers, Snobs and Villains, with seven of each to be considered. The earliest novel he looks at is Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, with Robinson as one of his Heroes, and he ranges from that date to the contemporary, with Zoë Heller’s Barbara Covett from Notes on a Scandal as one of his Villains and Monica Ali’s Chanu Ahmed from Brick Lane as one of his Snobs.

He doesn’t like Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy, one of his Lovers. He sees him as depressive and enervated and so little does he like him that you wonder why he included him. He adores Emma who is one of his Snobs. So is James Bond, for whose canon he wrote a novel authorised by Ian Flemming’s estate.

Faulks is not offering literary criticism here, but a personal take on books he has read and the characters who inhabit their pages. A slice of lightweight literary entertainment.

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