11. A Room with a View, E.M. Forster (1908)

Forster’s novels were one of my early enthusiasms – I think I’d read them all by the time I was 17, spurred on by the pervasive whiff of lavender. And I love them still, unlike many of the books I devoured at that age. A Room with a View is his greatest achievement: it’s got the perfect balance of minute social observation with big sweeping themes, it contains a great love story which Forster observes like a fond aunt, and it’s very, very funny. I could happily spend a year analysing how he pulls all this off, and I’d probably be no nearer understanding his magic. Nobody nailed pretentiousness and repression like Forster, and despite all the politeness and tea cups there’s a real understanding of sex and its place in the world. Some people prefer the more obviously ‘big’ novels like Howard’s End and A Passage to India, and I love them too, but nothing matches the comic genius of A Room with a View. Incidentally, I also love Maurice, although it seems to be the done thing to say it’s terrible.

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