1 Lark Rise to Candleford
Flora Thompson, 1945
Blending novel and autobiography, the trilogy has become synonymous with a kind of vanished England. They recount the dramatic changes in rural life and work around the end of the 19th century, as agriculture began to be governed by machines, rather than the seasons. Many of the anxieties many may now feel about the world appear to have their roots here, as local character founded in close-knit communities began to evaporate, with urban expansion and improved communications leading to greater efficiency but a loss of a certain charm. The fictionalised account of Thomspon's childhood tells of the hamlet Lark Rise, the town of Candleford and the village of Candleford Green - which relate respectively to Juniper Hill, Buckingham and Fringford. The enduring appeal of the stories - originally published separately as Lark Rise in 1939, Over to Candleford in 1941 and Candleford Green in 1943.- was evident in the popularity of the BBC adaptation, starring Julia Sawalha, Olivia Hallinan, Brendan Coyle and Dawn French, which ran from 2008 to 2011.
Publisher: OUP Oxford
Roald Dahl, 1988
It's sold 17 million copies - more than any other book by Dahl - become a hit film directed by Danny DeVito and something of a musical theatre phenomenon. And it's shaped by Dahl's experiences in his home village of Great Missenden. The heroine is an unusually bright girl growing up in a Buckinghamshire village. But her parents fail to recognise her brilliance, treating her with cruelty and unpleasantness. Her teacher, Jennifer Honey, becomes an ally; yet her school's headteacher, Mrs Trunchbull, is anything but, terrorising her young charges with a particularly vicious sadism. So Matilda decides to set her particular powers against the tyrannical Trunchbull - with rather wondrous results.
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
3 Life After Life
Kate Atkinson, 2013
To say Life After Life is critically acclaimed would be an understatement. It won the 2013 Costa Book Awards and was shortlisted for the 2013 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and Waterstones Book of the Year and the Walter Scott Prize, as well as being selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. In 2019, Life After Life was ranked by The Guardian as the 20th best book published since 2000. What helps it stand out is its unusual structure, the story repeatedly looping back in time to describe different possible lives for its central character, Ursula Todd, upon her birth in 1910 near Chalfont St Peter - she is stillborn, drowns, falls from a roof to her death, falls victim to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, works in London for the War Office during the Second World War, tries to prevent the war happening, and so on. But this is more than a work of narrative pyrotechnics, with the Guardian stating the "dizzying fictional construction is grounded by such emotional intelligence that her heroine’s struggles always feel painfully, joyously real".
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company
4 Dusty Answer
Rosamond Lehmann, 1927
Rosamond Lehmann's debut novel caused a scandal at the time of its publication. The Evening Standard called it a 'corrupting influence' on the young. Lehmann herself said how "It was discussed, and even reviewed, in certain quarters as the outpourings of a sex-maniac". Nevertheless, it was lauded by critics, became a bestseller and has since been described by the Guardian as a "landmark book of the interwar period". It tells of Judith Earle, who grows up in a large riverbank house in Buckinghamshire, her only playmates the five cousins next door - but romance overtakes friendships. Judith's brief romantic involvement with Jennifer, a fellow student, would prove especially controversial among contemporary society.
Neal Stephenson, 1999
One of various novels inspired by the work carried out at Bletchley Park, Cryptonomicon is set in two periods: the Second World War and the 1990s. Some characters overlap the settings; some in the second have ancestors in the first. Critic Jay Clayton called it the “ultimate geek novel," with the book winning various sci-fi awards.