Every Wednesday evening, feeling more than a little apprehensive, I take the bus in to town where I teach an evening course in English to thirteen or so Belgian adults. It is my first ever class; I began teaching them without even a minute’s training or previous experience and they have been lovely and supportive even when I have inflicted some pretty dreadful lessons on them. What was initially an experience like entering the labyrinth without the thread has become fun (heh, for me anyway!).
We’ve decided – most of us, there are one or two less eager – that we’d like to read and discuss an English novel in the class, and this week I need to make a short-list of possibilities from which they can choose. And for this, dear friends, I should really appreciate your help. My class is probably A-level and above in terms of level of English, evenly divided in terms of gender and mostly aged over forty-five; classics and detective novels have been mentioned by a couple as the sort of books they like to read, so I should like to include a couple of those. Last year some read Nicole Krauss’s Great House and enjoyed it, while others attempted Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones and unanimously loathed it. (One student told me he’d attempted to read Henry James. Henry James! I think it was Washington Square as he said it was about a rich man and his daughter; he didn’t get very far with it.)
I was thinking along the lines of something with a compelling plot and interesting characters, literary but not too experimental in language and not too long. It must have been originally written in English, but need not be British, and must be available in paperback. Something contemporary would be a bonus, I haven’t read many English novels published in the last ten years so I am particularly stumped for ideas there. It needs to appeal to both men and women.
Feeling somewhat at a loss, I am turning to you all, with your wide range of knowledge, for help. Can you suggest anything?
(My partner is insisting I include Tom Sharpe’s Wilt on the list as it is the Best English Novel He Has Ever Read; I haven’t read it – have you? What was your impression of it?)