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Author of THE HAND THAT SIGNED THE PAPER, Helen Darville, interviewed (Page 2)

Author Helen Darville continues with her list of favorite books...

4. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

An Arthur C Clarke award winner, I’ll stick my neck out here and claim the title of ‘greatest dystopia ever written’ for Atwood’s account of a powerful western state overrun by a Christian version of Islamic fundamentalism.
It details the systematic destruction of women’s rights – often through other women, a chilling and perceptive touch – by an ideology rooted in the three western desert faiths.
It is a timely reminder that the misogyny and oppression we now see in Islam were once characteristics of Christianity, and that any opposition between the West and Islam is based not on Christianity, but on Western secular liberalism.
George W Bush and other Godbotherers take note.

5. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

The only long book on this list, so it must be good.
I studied medieval English, Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic as part of my degree – in those days you had to.
It is Tolkien’s reworking of those myths – apart from his own ability to give weight and depth to plain English without sounding silly – that makes his Ring saga so compelling.
An extended meditation on Lord Acton’s dictum (as opposed to Orwell’s short exposition), Tolkien argues that it is best to avoid power altogether.
To court it is to court inevitable corruption.

6. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

It may be trite and a truism, but atrocities are not always committed by the bad guys.
Like Orwell, Vonnegut is never turgid; unlike Orwell, he is funny and sharp.
You will never again hear the phrases ‘aerial bombardment’ or ‘collateral damage’ without a suppressing a shudder once you’ve read his account of the firebombing of Dresden.
Someone needs to send a copy to George W, then chain him to his desk to ensure he reads it.

7. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Just realised this list is getting a tad dystopian.
Still, I’ve always liked books that are honest about human frailties and imperfections.
Golding – unlike the modern purveyors of political correctness – refuses to pretend that a return to some sort of arcadian savagery would be an improvement on modernity.
And yet: modernity produced the atomic bomb, the reason why the boys are stranded on an island in the first place.
One of the best tales we have of the forked stick in which humanity currently finds itself.

8. The Last Temptation – Nikos Kazantzakis

It’s fair to say that I dislike religion.
I have little time for virgin births, parting oceans and camel traders seized in the arms of archangels.
This book, then, occupies a special place as the only novel I have ever read that conveys the ecstatic nature of religious vision, and its capacity (as a sort of ‘wild magic’) to bring about great change – for good or ill. Ignore the insipid Scorsese film adaptation and read Kazantzakis’ novel.
You may still dislike religion, but you will understand what drives its followers.

9. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Mangled by countless retellings for children, it is worth reading Swift’s original narrative of Gulliver’s four voyages for the cleverness of his satire and the clarity of his prose.
Most versions only include the first two voyages – to Lilliput and Brobdingnag.
It is worth finding an edition that includes the two later voyages – to the Flying Island of Laputa and to the Land of the Houyhnhnms.
Often wrongly considered a misanthrope, Swift’s hatred is reserved not for mankind but for the view that human nature is essentially good. Salutary reading.

10. The Merry-Go-Round In the Sea – Randolph Stow

Very few authors can write through a child’s eyes, and yet many try.
Stow succeeds, and succeeds completely in this novel.
His depiction of a small Australian community as it responds to the vicissitudes of war is both harsh and kind.
Harsh because one of the main characters leaves Australia at war’s end on bitter terms, hating the country for its conformity and torpor; kind because we recognise the Australia depicted in the novel, with its many strengths and weaknesses.
Unlike other Australian novelists, who pretend that Australia was somehow magically ‘liberated’ by sixties radicalism and multiculturalism, Stow recognises that the national love of conformity has not changed – we merely conform to new demands.

The Hand That Signed the Paper, by Helen Darville, was published by Allen and Unwin.
Check out Helen Darville’s website at www.uq.net.au/~enhdemid/