How To Write About Books You Haven’t Read: Intro to the Novel Edition
by Hannah Ryley
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
You may have noticed this novel goes on and on – much like the Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case at its centre. Meanwhile: Esther gets the pox, the adorable Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop dance their way to romance, and every feels sorry for orphan Jo. However, the BBC have created a Massive Cheat Opportunity by producing an adaptation of Bleak House – except it’s EIGHT AND A HALF HOURS, so to avoid going insane during a Bleak marathon, plan your viewing well in advance of the exam.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
This weighty novel overflows with Rushdie’s trademark linguistic verve and piquant punning and, as a result, it is usually either loved or hated. The narrator, Saleem Sinai (charmingly also known as Snotnose), leads the reader, and his much-put-upon wife Padma, through his life story. Far too much happens to summarise, but the très clever use of spicy chutney preserves narrative order…sort of. Unfortunately you can’t cheat by watching the film adaptation, because it is currently in production, but speed-reading is highly recommended.
Suggested viewing: Five minutes of Rushdie talking about the ‘fictionality of fiction’. Yeah, we have no idea either.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness is the ideal text – short and weird, providing a lot of material for that English-degree staple, ‘original interpretation’. The narrative frame sees sailor Marlow recount his travels up the Congo into Africa, where he witnesses the cruelties and hypocrisies of colonialism. Race and gender issues abound, so look up Chinua Achebe’s essay and focus on the mysterious ‘Intended’ and the ‘African Mistress’. Just make sure you don’t do what my friend did, who shall remain unnamed, which was to call Kurtz ‘Hertz’ throughout his exam essay answer.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
In the exam you are, unfortunately, unlikely to be asked about the sole highlights of the novel: Crusoe’s prolific goat-breeding and extensive home-grown tobacco experimentation – he tries to snort, smoke and even, I think, eat the stuff. But that may be my vivid imagination. Although debate around the character of Friday is quite interesting, most critics focus on about the significance of Defoe as the father of the novel, or Alexander Selkirk and all the other (more interesting) contemporary travel writing.