Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My fiction ranking from around the world

The blog I wrote a few weeks ago about "Oasis" style fiction got me thinking about so-called famous classics I've read over the years, both as part of school or Uni English or just for my own amusement. I've read quite a variety from different speaking English countries, and while some has been great, some has been the opposite. Just for fun, I decided to choose a couple of books from each country that fit into MOST UPLIFTING or MOST DEPRESSING.

Before I start, I want to say that my judging criteria was how they made me feel. Some boosted my spirits, tickled my funny bone, made me rejoice that God really is actively caring for His people, or all three. Others, on the other hand, made me miserable, even teary, longing to put them out of my mind but unable to do so fast enough. By MOST DEPRESSING, I don't mean that I found anything wrong with the writing style. On the contrary, some of it has been the most excellently written and emotional, which perhaps helped it to earn the rating I bestowed on it.
OK, here goes.


Most Uplifting
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. (Even though I've come across some people who'd disagree with this, this book has stayed top of my list since I read it, aged 15. Just the neatness of her plot and functions of each of her characters intrigues me. And I really think that every character ended up as happily as he or she wanted to be.)
"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins. (This is a great Victorian mystery narrated from the viewpoints of many characters.)
Most Depressing
"Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy. (His "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" nearly made it here too, but because of the appalling things that happened to poor old Jude, I had to give him top spot. It was unimaginable.)


Most Uplifting
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. (Same goes as for "Wuthering Heights" Even though not everything that happened was good, Atticus Finch and his children were safe at the end and I got the feeling that the whole town had learned a lesson and things were going to get better.)
Most Depressing
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. (I had to read this one for Year 12 at High School. All I can say is that after all Steinbeck put the poor Joad family through, surely he could have let at least one of them live happily ever after.)


Most Uplifting
"Anne of Green Gables" and all of its sequels, by L.M. Montgomery. (A pleasure to read and that lady probably helped put her little province of Prince Edward Island on the world map!)
Most Depressing
OK, I have to admit that I can't remember ever reading something thoroughly depressing from Canada. Are there any? Do Canadians have such a happy country that nothing sad or gloomy has ever made it onto the canon of English literature? Any Canadians reading this can answer me that.


Most Uplifting
"Poor Man's Orange" by Ruth Park. ("The Harp in the South", its prequel, was also pretty good but the herione, Dolour, in "Poor Man's Orange" reminded me very much of myself at her age, and everything ended beautifully for her. It was a book that was meant to reflect "real life" but she got the man of her dreams. Sometimes that's all I want to know when I'm reading.)
Most Depressing
"For the Term of his Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke. (This I can say without a doubt. Condemned as a convict for a crime he didn't even commit, treated cruelly, having the only person who could confirm his goodness stricken with sudden amnesia, and finally drowning on his big escape voyage with the girl of his dreams, Rufus Dawes' adventures were every bit as heart-wrenching as Jude the Obscure's. Perhaps Marcus Clarke just wanted to show that anything the English can write, we can write sadder. It's the sort of book you have to distance yourself from and start laughing, or you'll go around the twist. This was on my Uni "Australian Literature" syllabus. I never persevere with anything this sad unless I have to. Thankfully, those days are over.)

So after all that, does this exercise of mine prove anything? Perhaps it shows that people and their books are the same the world over. Or that many authors are exceedingly melancholic in temperament. Or perhaps it just shows that if Prozac had been around in earlier centuries and decades, Thomas Hardy, John Steinbeck and Marcus Clarke might have been prescribed it.


  1. I don't know about depressing, but my husband just read Madame Bovary and insisted that I read it too. I got through several chapters and quit. I hated it! Way too many details distracting from the plot.

  2. Interesting point about the prozac. As an artist, I found that wearing my glasses significantly changed my artwork, so I ditched them for art. Taking mood altering drugs probably has a similar effect for writers.

    I don't know if it was because of the choices my teachers picked, but as a teenager I thought all classic literature was depressing. When you mention John Steinbeck I immediately remembered The Pearl. Then there was Albert Camus' The Stranger, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. They also covered many of Shakespeare's tragedies, but none of the comedies.
    How do you explain to your kids about reading literature that makes you sad or teary? Except for Harry Potter, I've found it very difficult to convince my children to read a story if they know it is sad. Do you think it's because of how I approach life?
    With Peace and Laughter,

  3. Your last paragraph made me think of how many good stories there might NOT be if everyone was treated for depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and so on. It seems that some good can come from bad when it comes to writers and artists, going way back in time. Maybe because these people's feelings are right there on the surface, they are able to express emotion so well. I've always been sad about Edgar Allen Poe, being in the state of mind/health he was in and writing such scary but good stuff. I haven't read him in years but I was fascinated with him as a teen.

    Interesting comments about these books. I began reading good stuff late in life and apparently, I have much to catch up on! Did you get my email? Oh, I have a question - what does the word "arvo" mean? I read it in another Aussie blog and can't even guess at the meaning.

    Take care,

  4. OK..I've read most of the books you listed and I totally agree with you. I'm going to see if I can find a copy of Wuthering Heights. (The name cracks me up!)

    I've been told that I should write my nightmares down, but they're too scary to re-visit. Lol, I've been told I should write my life's story, but once again, too depressing to re-visit. Maybe some day.

    Are your books in America? I'd love to read them.


  5. Oddly enough, I liked Wuthering Heights. Even though I didn't really like most "classical" literature. I guess I just know what I like.

    The other irritating thing with "Grapes of Wrath" is the stereotyping it's managed to do for people from Oklahoma and the state itself. It's not dusty anymore. *L*

    Speaking of Books...can we mail a copy of Stanley to your daughter? We found the first book very entertaining and in keeping with tradition - we'd love to mail him to Australia. *L*

  6. You and I agree on many of the same books. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird even as a 9th grader who was forced to read it.

    I am currently reading Tolkien's latest book "The Children of Hurin" and I LOVE it! I love all of his books but this one would definately make it into the "depressing" category.

  7. I think a depressingly awful Canadian book would have to be Michael Ondattje's The English Patient. The movie wasn't bad, but as a book, it stunk.