I’m very grateful to Rebecca Mascull for inviting me to join in this one. The idea is to select three novels – a dark chocolate novel, a milk chocolate novel and a white chocolate novel. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about this. Rebecca’s haunting and original novel The Visitors is out in hardback now, and her chocolate choices are here:
Dark chocolate is serious stuff. There are books that take me so close to myself that they’re slightly dangerous, and perhaps the most significant of these is Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. For me, Villette defines the pain, and the necessity, of self-sufficiency in love. You can keep your Romeo and Juliets, who have the luxury of death to cosset their woes. You can keep Lizzy Bennet, who suffers a muddy petticoat and some mild opprobrium before realizing she’d got that nice Mr Darcy all wrong. You can even keep Jane Eyre, who knew what she’d see in the mirror and was comfortable in her own skin. Love isn’t a prop or a crutch or even a destination; it’s an inner force that, at best, makes you more yourself, and in the process, makes you face who you are. Not for the fainthearted.
One book? You want me to choose one book? There are so many books I go back to again and again; ones I can practically recite; the ones I buy for people I love. Middlemarch. Anything by Jane Austen (especially Mansfield Park). The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver). English Passengers (Matthew Kneale). Anything, but anything, by Dorothy L. Sayers. But overall, for glorious, soul-satisfying pleasure, it has to be Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Preferably in the Folio Society edition with Quentin Blake illustrations. I send holiday postcards just so that I can sign them off with, ‘Love to all except Micah.’ Either you know why that’s funny, or you need to read Cold Comfort Farm. If it’s the latter and I love you, then I’ve probably already sent you a copy.
I’m not a fan of white chocolate, but my children love it. I only had children so that I could read them my favourite children’s stories. We’ve read The Tiger who Came to Tea. We’ve read Zagazoo and Each Peach Pear Plum. We’ve moved on to Arabel’s Raven and the fairy stories of Terry Jones. Soon, we’ll be reading Noel Streatfeild and the wild, brilliant adventure stories of Joan Aiken. But there, on the horizon, The Phantom Tollbooth is hovering. From an inspired place of genius, Norton Juster created the greatest children’s novel ever written. I’ve got four copies put away, one for each child, and I’m reading every single one of them before I hand them over.
Now. Traditionally, I should be handing over to another writer or two just about now. But I was always rubbish at chain letters and I’m proving to be equally rubbish at this, and have given my invited authors no notice at all. I’ll post links to their responses as they come in, and in the meantime, I’d love to know what your Chocolate Book Challenge choices would be. (If you’d like to take part in the Chocolate Challenge on your own blog, let me know (@antonia_writes) and I’ll include the link here).