Blemished but Brilliant

Anna Karenina“There was a lot wrong with it and it was flawed in many ways…almost nobody liked the ending.”

Not the words you would expect to hear from the chair of the judges awarding a prestigious literary prize. But that is exactly what Times columnist Matthew Parris said, after he had handed over the £25,000 cheque for the Costa Book of the Year earlier this week.

In the end, Matthew Parris explained, many great books are also flawed in their own way, saying that even Shakespeare’s play The Tempest has a bad ending.

The Today programme asked two distinguished writers, to nominate some great, but flawed, works of literature.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Magnificent, but it does go on… many, many whale-related digressions. Only its terrific drive and characterization carry you along.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. That famous opening, but no one seems to remember the way Dickens goes on to hammer away at every possible subsequent variation on a theme of – it was the tallest, it was the shortest, it was the driest, it was the soggiest, it was the creamiest, it was the grittiest…

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Wonderful book, but possibly marred by all those digressions into agricultural theory and the incident when Vronsky accidentally snaps his horse – a slightly unlikely passage that no one ever seems to remember.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller Great concepts and characters, but the humour does tend to fall into a repeating pattern.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Høeg. Again, a fine book – the giant sea worms at the end appearing like a dead weasel on the face of a much-loved friend.

More at BBC News

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