Books That Changed Me: Barbara Toner
Barbara Toner has several novels and books of non-fiction. Her latest novel, Four Respectable Women Seek the Meaning of Wife, is published by Bantam. She lives partly in Britain and partly by the south coast of NSW.
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Barbara Toner says Vanity fair is the best novel ever written.Credit:Toni_WaRd
I read huge amounts until I was 11 and then didn't pick up a book for fun until I was 20. That book was Normal Mailer's Advertisements for Myself, a miraculous discovery for the seriously lapsed reader. It provided not only evidence of Mailer's gift for incisive writing in all forms, it offered, more significantly for me, an insider's guide to the finest American novelists so I read every one of them and then I read the English.
Vanity Fair, despite its many screen adaptations, remains for me the best novel ever written. It has everything going for it plot-wise: tragedy, comedy, war, peace, love, hate, revenge, reconciliation death, joy despair, the lot. Becky Sharp is, of course, an inspired heroine but what I love best of all, is William Thackeray's roguish global view. He throws his characters into hell holes then he describes their struggles with the kind of world weariness I think God must endure.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Similarly, the very great joy of A Room With A View is E.M. Forster's authorial voice. His tone is wry and beautifully understated, exactly as it should be for his target. The silliness of the English class system obviously provides rich pickings but knowing which bits to pick – there's the mastery. Even reading my dog-eared copy for the billionth time, I laughed out loud at Lucy being "further saddened by the Signora's unexpected accent". It was Cockney.
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Patrick deWitt is a Canadian thereby proving, along with the creators of South Park that, unlikely as it seems, Canadians might be the funniest, most subversive writers on the planet. This is a morality tale/western whose characters are so cleverly realised, whose dialogue is so sharp and whose plot (as directed by the heroes' uncertain moral compasses) so unpredictable, that a stunning film version was inevitable. As a film treatment disguised as a novel, it's genius.
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