It’s always encouraging when excellent contemporary writers turn out to have great taste in literature (i.e., taste that agrees with my own). Reassuring. Suggests a well-ordered universe. That kind of thing.
So two weeks ago, I was delighted to read this interview with the wonderful British novelist Kate Atkinson. (If you haven’t read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Case Histories, or Life After Life, you should repair those omissions immediately.)
Asked which book she would take to a desert island, Atkinson couldn't quite decide: “Just William or Persuasion (don’t make me choose!). Both are equally brilliant in their own very, very different ways.”
Just William, better known in Britain than in the US, is the first in an extraordinarily long series of comic short-story collections for children. The books, which appeared from the 1920s to the 1960s, were written by Richmal Crompton, a clergyman’s daughter from the north of England who spent a decade as a schoolteacher, worked for women’s suffrage, and was partially disabled by polio.
Persuasion and its author, of course, need no introduction here. As someone who always finds it hard to decide which Austen novel to enlist for desert island duty, however, I was glad to see that Atkinson is also a bit torn. “It’s always a difficult hypothetical choice between Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice,” she told the Daily Mail. “The latter is the more brilliant of the two, but Persuasion speaks to the heart more.”
The rest of the interview offers further proof of Atkinson’s fine taste, at least in children’s literature: She’s a fan of books I treasure -- The Wind in the Willows and the works of the great E. Nesbit – and dislikes a writer I can’t stand, the dreadful Enid Blyton. Obviously, Atkinson is brilliant. Can’t wait to read her latest novel.