Muddy autumn reads
School is back, the days are getting shorter and there is a whiff of smoke in the air as log-burning stoves are fired up for the cooler autumn months. It’s also the month for literature. The London Literature Festival is on from 5-16 Oct and Guildford Book Festival is from 9-16 Oct. Muddy Surrey writer, Zoe Dudgeon gives us her bookish picks for autumn…
Whether or not you’re going back to school (or university) this autumn, everyone’s routines are suddenly re-aligned with the start of a new academic year. Gone are the carefree days of summer, lounging in the garden or on the beach with a good book. Fear not Muddy readers – we have chosen some great academic centric reads to get you through the autumn!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Author of The Goldfinch and a notorious recluse Donna Tartt wrote her debut novel, The Secret History, borrowing influence from her own experiences at Bennington College, Vermont. The novel traces the somewhat unconventional antics of a group of ‘elite’ Classics students. The novel is styled as a re-telling of events from the main character Richard’s memories. He and his five classmates separate themselves from the rest of their peers at university, embarking on a quest to recreate an ancient Greek ritual that ultimately results in two deaths. The novel is a whydunit rather than a whodunit. Tartt uses the university environment as a microcosm to explore the mechanics of US society on a larger scale, pinpointing the US’s obsession with protecting their boarders from outside infiltration when really most of the danger lies within the country itself. The novel makes an interesting read against the current political backdrop of the upcoming US election.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
A modern classic, this novel relays a friendship between the narrator Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte that begins during their studies at Oxford University. Sebastian introduces Charles to an array of eccentric characters at Oxford and they spend their university days frivolously. Charles becomes increasingly tied to the Flyte family, spending copious amounts of time at their home Brideshead Castle. He finds it difficult to separate himself from their enthralling lives. However, the Flyte’s are devoutly Roman Catholic and Sebastian struggles with the burden of his faith. He falls to drink and eventually flees the country to seek solace in an alternative lifestyle. The family manages to destroy themselves through one means or another and everyone does not live happily ever after…… Charles reflects on his years spent with the Flyte’s as he unexpectedly returns to the family home, Brideshead Castle, when he is billeted there during WWII.
Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power
The setting: University College, Dublin. The crime: murder. One night that will change the lives of three promising students forever. Stephen, Barry and Richard are part of a rich and elite set in Dublin that believe their money and privilege can buy them anything. The novel, which is inspired from real events, pieces together the actions that led to the murder of a student outside a nightclub. Inevitably a girl is involved; the beautiful and troubled Laura who has a place in both the killers’ and the victim’s hearts. The three young boys and their victim are all part of the same rugby team at university and what transpires is that they cannot keep their aggression on the pitch. The novel examines the construction of an elite society that believes it is above the law. The murder becomes integral to the community at large and everyone is interested in the ultimate verdict for the perpetrators.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A classic in children’s literature since it was first published in 1905 this is a great novel to get kids reading. The main character Sara is enrolled in a prim and proper English boarding school in London in stark contrast to her colourful upbringing in India. Despite missing her father she receives special treatment at the school due to her family wealth. This in turn inspires resentment in the headmistress Miss Minchin. When Sara’s father mysteriously disappears (presumed dead) and loses his fortune she is quick to demote Sara to a servant. Sara lives in the attic of the school and works brutal hours scrubbing the floors. However, she maintains her upbeat perspective and draws on her rich imagination to comfort herself and the other girls. Unbeknown to Sara one of her father’s colleagues is living across the road and soon discovers the reality of her existence. The novel is vivid and poignant; suitable for any little princesses you have at home!