What are the best ‘bad’ books?

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13 January
17:34
31 January
03:19

The Enchanted Wood (1939) Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton’s children’s books have been criticised for perceived xenophobia, sexism and racism. Her writing style is certainly not highly thought of. But I adored her books as a child, particularly The Enchanted Wood and all the other stories from Magic Faraway Tree. I loved her characters – Moonface, Silky, The Saucepan Man – and was fascinated and/or terrified by certain lands that could be visited at the top of the tree, such as, most memorably, The Land of Dame Slap. These books, as much as the Pan Books of Horror Stories, helped to form my tastes from an early age.

The Fog (1975) James Herbert

I was mocked – by a teacher – for having a copy of this novel sticking out of my briefcase at school. It was the first James Herbert novel I read. I thought The Survivor was a better novel, but I loved this, the creeping, insidious tendrils of fog somehow seeping into one’s brain. I realised later that there’s nothing particularly big or clever about inventing characters simply to kill them, in horrible ways, but there was something awfully gripping about the gym scene, and I seem to remember a chapter about two women that exerted a certain power…

Les Gommes (1953) Alain Robbe-Grillet

I met a publisher in Paris recently who told me that Les Gommes was ‘the most boring book ever written’. If it’s possible to know what he means but disagree with him then I know what he means but I disagree with him. I love Robbe-Grillet. I read La Jalousie first, which is probably his masterpiece, although I love Un Régicide and, well, all of his books that I’ve read, but there’s something brilliant about the idea of narrative erasure in Les Gommes. I recently returned a library copy to the Bibliothèque Centrale du 19e Arrondissement that I borrowed in 1984, when I lived in Paris, and never returned. I used making a radio programme about returning long-overdue library books as a way of not getting fined for it.

Nightspawn (1971) John Banville

My friend and Manchester Metropolitan University teaching colleague Joe Stretch recommended this to me. I hadn’t read any John Banville, though of course I was aware of him. Joe told me it was a bit purple in places, but that he’d loved it and he thought I would. He was right. I loved it. Unlike its author, apparently. You won’t see it lining up with the rest of his backlist in smart new Picador jackets, which is a shame. It’s still the only one of Banville’s books I’ve read, but I have some of the less purple ones and am looking forward to reading them.

The Haunted Storm (1972) Philip N Pullman

I bought this from Dick’s book stall on Ipswich market in 1982 and read it and found it fascinating, then somehow the book and I parted company. Years later, in the 1990s, I wanted to read it again and couldn’t find it. I searched high and low, in secondhand bookshops and library catalogues, even contacting the publisher, but no one had any record of The Haunted Shore by MN Hillman. Because it didn’t exist. I’d managed to misremember both the title and the author’s name, I discovered, when I saw the cover reproduced in a newspaper feature about authors’ and artists’ early works disowned by their creators. I found a copy online that stank of cigarettes and paid £100 for it, more fool me. Pullman refuses to even discuss the book, never mind consider its rerelease.

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