74. Trilby, George du Maurier (1894)

Trilby is one of those books that I keep coming back to for inspiration and ideas, because at its heart is the mythical story of the untalented singer Cheryl Cole – sorry, Trilby O’Ferrall – and her demonic mentor, Svengali, who moulds her into a great artist. There’s a lot more to Trilby than that – other characters take up as much of the book as Svengali does, and their stories are extremely enjoyable in their own right, building up an intoxicating picture of Bohemian life in 19th-century Paris. But it’s the unwholesome, paranormal relationship between the singer and her master that made Trilby one of the most successful novels of its day, and which brings readers to the book now. Svengali himself is a gruesome Jewish stereotype, which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and du Maurier never wrote anything of comparable quality – but Trilby, for all its difficulties, is a compelling and powerful book.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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