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    • Novelist David Nicholls is currently reading Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
    • He would take a Charles Dicken’s novel, Bleak House, to a desert island
    • David has also enjoyed reading Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan

    . . . are you reading now?

    Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, a very fine book set in Fifties suburbia, about a lonely journalist who thinks she may have discovered a virgin birth. It’s witty and sharp and reads like something by Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, without ever feeling like a pastiche.

    Also Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan, one of my favourite writers. Touching and beautifully written, it’s a family saga set largely in rural Ireland, and full of twists and turns — I guarantee you’ll have no idea where it ends up.

    I’ve enjoyed all of Donal’s novels and this is no exception.

    Novelist David Nicholls, whose latest book Sweet Sorrow is out now in paperback (Hodder, £8.99)

    . . . would you take to a desert island?

    I love Charles Dickens, always have, and have read nearly all of his novels more than once (though Barnaby Rudge defeated me).

    Bleak House remains my favourite — it’s so rich, dark and complicated; brilliantly funny then heart-breaking on the next page. It’s his best work, I think — a book to get lost in.

    But perhaps it’s a waste to take something with which I’m already familiar. If I had to fill a hole, it would be Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a great novel that I pretend to know but have never got round to reading.

    In fact, now I think about it, there are all kinds of fine books that have passed me by — Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Middlemarch by George Eliot, most of Jane Austen.

    Is there some wonderful, 2,000-page compendium of classics that I could take to the island?

    . . . first gave you the reading bug?

    The Moomins and The Chronicles Of Narnia. I was obsessed with both — C. S. Lewis’s Narnia for the adventure, Tove Jansson’s Moomins (pictured) for their strange, weirdly pleasurable sense of sadness. I swallowed them all, one after another.

    Asterix, too, was a great pleasure — so witty and clever. But I was a library kid, always taking out the maximum number of books allowed, and read fairly indiscriminately.

    I’d often choose stories on the strength of their covers, an instinctive feeling that seemed to work pretty well — The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, The Last Of The Dragons by E. Nesbit, the Molesworth Books by Geoffrey Willans all burned themselves into my memory.

    . . . left you cold?

    I tried and tried to enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien as a kid. It seemed tailor-made for me, and yet the writing was so flat. How could an adventure story about dwarves, trolls and dragons be so hard to get through? Perhaps I should have persevered.

    I love a great many 19th-century novels but — and I’m wary of admitting this because I know it’s much loved — I think Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a very eccentric book, and not in a good way.

    Weirdly structured, relentlessly gloomy, grim and repetitive with truly horrible characters, its reputation as a great love story is a complete mystery to me. 

    • Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls is out now in paperback (Hodder, £8.99).


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