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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

Playback.jpg Read and read again

Which novels are the most rewarding to re-read? Those without a plot, of course…

‘Are you not going to chuck some of these books out,’ my partner regularly moans at me, exasperated by the lack of space in our flat, before invariably adding: ‘You’re never going to read them again.’ WRONG! I’m very much going to read them again, some many times over.

During the last month or so, for instance, I’ve been re-reading all of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective novels, in advance of reviewing a new biography of the crime writer by Newcastle born author, Tom Williams.

Ever since I was first riveted by the indefatigable Marlowe as a teenager, I must have ventured down the mean streets of LA many times over with him, and, after these latest sojourns, I got to thinking about which other books I regularly re-read, and the qualities that they possess.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are perennial favourites and there’s nary a year goes by when I don’t reacquaint myself with Bertie Wooster and chums in P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels. And during my last Chandler fest, it occurred to me just how similar the Marlowe and Jeeves books are, in that the plots and characters for each series are largely interchangeable. With Marlowe it’s all about getting embroiled in cases populated by double-crossing dames and lying drunkards, which, at first, seem straightforward but soon bloom into the labyrinthine; while just about every Bertie Wooster tale sees him accidentally getting engaged to some dizzy flapper - whom he definitely doesn’t want to marry - which Jeeves must then extricate him from. The plots, such as they are, are not the chief charms of these stories. (Indeed Chandler made them up as he went along.) No, the joy in these novels is to be found in their delicious telling. With Wodehouse, of course, it’s his sparkling humour (“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled”) and with Chandler it’s an economic style that reads like a zesty Hemmingway and, yes, also features plenty of sharp wit (“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away”).

These writers could get away with replicating plots because when you re-read their work it’s like holding diamonds up to the light, noting how they sparkle in entirely new and enthralling ways; not page turners, but page lingerers.

Throw these books out? That would be the equivalent of binning diamonds. RM