The Box Set: A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell
A Dance to the Music of Time is a captivating, witty, caustic glimpse into the upper reaches of British society beginning sometime after the end of the First World War and ending in the sixties: it's somewhere between Proust A La Recherche du Temps Perdu and Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga and, like both, runs into volumes, individually of varying brilliance, but a masterpiece taken as a whole. I read the First Movement last summer - the twelve novels of the cycle are much more easily digested in four parts. Don't be tempted to set yourself a target of a book a month for twelve months: like a good telly box-sets, it's designed for bingeing on, gobbling as much of its deliciousness as one can manage in a single sitting. It's not for ekeing out into smaller portions, not least because one will lose track of the marvellous and numerous characters who wander in and out of the narrative, and whose rediscovery at different points in their lives is one of the many pleasures of this great literary treat.
The Greatest British Novel (as voted for by the rest of the world)*: Middlemarch, George Eliot
I'm ashamed to say I've read very little George Eliot: I can only think it's laziness. Middlemarch is not a short novel at nine hundred pages, and it's utterly impossible to skim read it, as I discovered when Deborah Moggach chose it as one of her Books That Built Me. I read enough to recognise why Moggach loves it so, and why Woolf described it as "a magnificent book... one of the few English novels written for grown up people.' I began it anew over the New Year break and resolved to read and savour slowly - it is a literary superfood after all.
*the BBC recently polled 82 critics from Australia to Zimbabwe, but none from the UK, to discover the greatest British novel (from a non-British perspective) - see the list here
I didn't dare confess to Susan Hill, a Dickens devotee, that I had never read Little Dorrit. Nor did I let on that I was secretly relieved when she swapped Little Dorrit for A Christmas Carol for her Books That Built Me. However, if she feels it is Dicken's greatest novel, that's good enough for me.
The 'Greatest comic novel of the twentieth century': Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
Fond as I am of other members of the Amis family - Elizabeth Jane Howard, Martin Amis - I've boorishly written off Kingsley as too misanthropic and curmudgeonly to be bothered with. This breaks one of my few rules; to judge the work and not the artist and I'm rather ashamed of myself.
Christopher Hitchens believed Amis managed to 'synthesise the comic achievements of Evelyn Waugh and P.G Wodehouse' in Lucky Jim, and Amis remains one of only two comic novelists to have won the Booker Prize (the other is Howard Jacobson). So, I shall give it a go,