90. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres (1994)

Another one to file alongside Birdsong in that brief flowering of early 90s popular fiction. I distinctly recall seeing this book in the old Books Etc shop on Charing Cross Road, picking it up because I liked the pretty cover and thinking ‘okay, this sounds interesting, I’ll give it a whirl’. That doesn’t happen any more, does it? Obviously Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is heavy going what with all the massacres, earthquakes, rape, torture etc, but the characters are so powerful, and the story so strong, that it’s much more than just a catalogue of misery. De Bernieres is particularly good at evoking physical sensations that pinpoint the emotions – the smell of pines, the pain of falling onto a broken pot, the taste of wine and so on. I was particularly impressed by his no-nonsense treatment of the gay character, and I still laugh about the story of the English officer dropped behind enemy lines but only able to speak the Ancient Greek he learned at public school. (Have I misremembered this?) I tried a couple of De Bernieres’s earlier novels and really didn’t like them – I don’t get on with magical realism. (I can hear the hi-lit types out there sighing ‘Oh Rupert really…’)

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