The Screwtape Letters

(by C.S. Lewis) Lewis was unsurpassed in winkling out a small dark corner of the soul and blowing it into toxic glasswork.  Here we have one-way correspondence from a demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood: a how-to manual for those who would catch our souls.  Exquisite, even for those without the gift of faith. My favourite lesson concerns the lady who quails at that offered, wheedling for “all I want…”.  Screwtape’s comment: “Because what she wants is…less…than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.” This…

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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

(by James Hogg) The protagonist, Robert Wringhim, finds himself spiraling deeper into a vortex of evil. Luckily there’s a mysterious but nice young chap to ‘guide’ him on his way. A towering, fascinating ‘mystery’ novel, revealing how dangerous it is to mix Calvinism and Old Scratch.

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Pale Fire

(by Vladimir Nabokov) Great post-modernism. With fake scholarship, confected verse and unreliable commentary (a triple Ephialtes). “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”

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Nostromo

(by Joseph Conrad) Conrad’s robust, sinewy and subtle story of silver madness is the best thing he ever did.

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The Moon and Sixpence

(by W. Somerset Maugham) W struggled to create a genuine primitive but he comes close with Charles Strickland, a nasty and tormented artist, based on Paul Gauguin (born 7 June 1848, died 8 May 1903 in Polynesia).  Strickland’s exchanges with the Maugham-like narrator are great fun.  “Don’t you care whether you paint well or badly?” “I don’t. I want only to paint what I see.”  

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