I saw a funny cartoon online yesterday. It depicted a bleary-eyed woman emerging from her crumpled bed sheets captioned, ‘The morning after the book before’. I actually laughed out loud, not least because I AM that woman who gets so addicted to a book that I can’t put it down. Because of this I have to ration my prose. And god help the family if I pick up a trilogy.
To me, that’s the pinnacle of success for writers. To think that someone, somewhere, might be a little bit infatuated with their characters. Yes, I know it’s a bit ‘look at me, how clever am I’ et al but what if, by some miracle, you’ve actually managed to emulate the EL James’ of this world and entertained Mrs Anonymous so much that she’s still up at 3am and hasn’t put the dogs out yet?
It’s the sort of dream that spurs me on when I’m suffocating with self-doubt and my latest plotline has gone the same way as the last two series of Downton Abbey i.e. down the shitter.
My sister-in-law has a table in her kitchen called ‘The Shackleton’, named after the famous divorce lawyer who took on Heather Mills. It’s because of the massive row-to-end-all-rows she had with my brother when out buying the thing. She loved it. He didn’t. She won of course but it’s forever marred as the perilous reminder of how unreasonable my brother can be. Like when I lose myself in a book and end up driving my poor, abandoned family to the brink…
So in the spirit of all potential deal-breakers here is my ‘Shackleton List’. Three books that have had me up at all hours like the literary equivalent of a child’s vomiting bug:
RIVALS. Jilly Cooper.
So all-consuming and brilliant and SO influential that I’m positive this book is responsible for me embarking on a TV career in the first place. Never met a ‘Rupert’ but it’s surprising how many ‘Tony’s’ I encountered in the corridors of the BBC.
THE SMOKEJUMPER. Nicholas Evans.I loved his earlier novel, The Horse Whisperer, but this is something else. It’s a great, sweeping epic of a story. I fell in love with the characters so much that when the husband stormed off to sleep downstairs and came back four hours later I’d barely noticed.
FORTUNES ROCK. Anita Shreve.This author’s prose is so unique. Writing a romance from a third person’s omniscience? It shouldn’t work, especially not for a romance, but by some magic-voodoo-devilry it succeeds with aplomb. I cried so much at the ending that my husband woke up and wondered who had died. Only a little part of myself, I whimpered forlornly, like so many of you out there who experience that same gut-churning despair when the end of a great book is upon us.
Go on… try them. Just don’t come knocking for Shackleton’s number when your other half accuses you of neglect.