I thought, with The Great Gatsby (1925) being a big film at the moment, there might be people out there who are looking for other novels of the 1920s to enjoy. I haven’t seen the film, and I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the novel when I read it a decade ago, but I do know a thing or two about the 1920s. So do a lot of you, of course, but I thought, nonetheless, in case people stumble across Stuck-in-a-Book wanting to read more from the 1920s, I create a little decade Stuck-in-a-Book best-of (clicking on the title takes you to a full-length review). Most of these don’t have much in common with The Great Gatsby except for decade of publication, but – whisper it – I’d argue that they’re all better.
1920 : Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson
To see how the Bright Young Things were behaving on the British side of the channel – or, rather, the Bright Middle-Aged Things – you can do no better than Benson’s hilarious series Mapp & Lucia, featuring the warring heroines and their sniping, fawning, and eccentric associates. But don’t be one of those people who starts with Mapp and Lucia, the fourth book – start at the beginning, with queen bee Queen Lucia.
1921 : The Dover Road by A.A. Milne
If you’ve never read any of AAM’s books for adults, or never read a play, or both, then this is a great place to start. It was P.G. Wodehouse’s favourite play, and is definitely one of mine too – an eloping couple stop for the night in a hotel, and curiously can’t leave in the morning… it’s all very funny, ingeniously plotted, and surprisingly poignant in the end.
1922 : The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
A short, powerful novella about a man who inherits a house unexpectedly, and slowly falls in love with it. There is more passion in this tale than you’ll find in most romances, and if you can find the beautiful Hesperus edition, all the better.
1923 : Bliss by Katherine Mansfield
The link is a slight cheat here, since it goes to Mansfield’s Selected Stories, but I had to include KM somewhere. Her writing is modernist without being inaccessible, and she is one of a tiny group of authors whose short stories satisfy me whatever mood I’m in. Observant, striking, entirely beautiful.
1924 : The Green Hat by Michael Arlen
The British equivalent of The Great Gatsby, at least in terms of parties, glitz disguising melancholy, and an enigma of a central character. Also rather better, I’d say – although a writing style which perhaps takes some getting used to. I described it as ‘like reading witty treacle’.
1925 : Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett
If you’ve never tried any of Dame Ivy’s delicious, divisive fiction, this is a good litmus test. Set in a boys’ school, it’s Ivy-lite. If you like it, you’ll love her richer works – if you don’t, then you’ll know to steer clear forever.
1926 : As It Was by Helen Thomas
A biography/autobiography by the poet Edward Thomas’s wife (followed later by World Without End) – together they are exceptionally good accounts of marriage, in all its pitfalls and peaks, and subsequently its fragility.
1927 : The Love-Child by Edith Olivier
One of my all-time favourite novels, this tells of a spinster who inadvertently conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life. From this premise comes a very grounded narrative, which is heart-breaking as well as an increasingly clever manipulation of a fanciful idea.
1928 : Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay is one of those bubbling-under authors – both from critical acceptance and middlebrow adoration. She deserves better in both categories, I think, and this delightful, thoughtful novel about a lightweight novelist and an aspiring highbrow woman is both funny and clever.
1929 : A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
You’ve probably heard of this essay, and you probably know its central tenet (about women needing an income and a room of their own, in order to write) but if you haven’t read it, you’re missing a real treat. If you find her fiction too flowery, this is a perfect place to sample her exemplary writing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed that quick whirl through the 1920s! Why not do the same mini project for the 1920s – or any other decade – on your own blog? Pop a link in the comments if you do…