Classics - it’s a section in every bookshop and on every bookshelf - but what makes a book a classic? In this episode of the Boundless Book Club from the Emirates Literature Foundation you’ll find Ahlam, Andrea and Annabelle sharing their favourite classic novels and the ones they’ve been resisting or that didn’t live up to the hype.
Books and authors mentioned in this episode:
The Beautiful and the Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
Ahlam nearly misses out on great read because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the Baz Lurmahn adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Set during New York’s Jazz Age, The Beautiful and the Damned follows the life of Anthony Patch, who chases money and beauty in elite East American society. It naturally tied into one of Ahlam’s favourite classics, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, a story of a beautiful man who sells his soul so that a painting of himself will age instead of him. Such a compelling representative of virtue corrupted by hedonism, the character of Dorian even lives on in modern films and television series.
The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
A young Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb disposal expert and a thief called Caravaggio are flung together with all their secrets and baggage into a crumbling Italian Villa at the end of the Second World War. The fourth resident of this lockdown situation is the eponymous English Patient - suffering from horrendous burns after a plane crash. The novel flits between his present day care from nurse Hannah, and a gradual reveal of the English patient’s past. It’s not her favourite book overall but Annabelle makes the case for abandoning the 50 pages rule for beautiful books that reward perseverance and patience.
Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh and Good Behaviour, by Molly Keen
A marriage plot turned on its head, this Evelyn Waugh classic published in 1930 is a satirical look at Britain’s rich young partygoers - the ‘bright young things’. It follows the story of writer Adam who wants to get married and in trying to secure the funds to marry his beloved Nina, loses her to another man. Andrea comments on the dark underbelly of this glitzy story and its similarity with Ahlam’s classics, and also on the parallels between Adam’s betrayal and Evelyn’s real-life betrayal by his wife at the time of writing.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, Dombey & Son, by Charles Dickens and Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Today’s podcast is not welcoming of nautical-themed fiction. Andrea just can’t get through Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick - man hunts whale for many pages. The End. Next! Funnily enough, the classic that Annabelle can do without is Treasure Island - from it’s endless references to jibs and sailing directions, to the fact that it just isn’t the Muppets version - Stevenson’s tale of adventure promised so much and just didn’t deliver. Charles Dickens also comes up as a classic author that just doesn’t hit the spot.
Ahlam Bolooki is the Festival Director for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the largest celebration of the written and spoken word in the Arab World. Ahlam finds it difficult to choose a favourite genre as it’s always changing and she’s still in the midst of discovering her literary self. She’s catching up on all the gems she missed as a child such as The Little Prince and The Giving Tree, but has also developed a new appetite for Crime Fiction so who knows what’s next?
Andrea Gissdal is the Head of Communications and Marketing for the Emirates Literature Foundation. From a voracious and indiscriminate reader as a child, to a part time bookseller as a student, as an adult she has become a literary omnivore but with a preference for fiction. She also dabbles in creative writing, and has a penchant for Scrabble.
Annabelle Corton is part of the team that puts together the programme of events for the EmiratesLitFest each year. She runs the Festival Book Club and has a background in guesting and presenting on talk radio shows about various literary topics. She likes words like ‘equinox’ and ‘vespa’, and loves a good pun. She’ll read anything in reach, but has a fondness for witty tussles of good vs. evil on page and screen, especially vampire fiction where a great deal is at stake. Get it? Stake? ….She’s not sorry.