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3. Queen Lucia, E.F. Benson (1927)

It would be cheating to put ‘The Lucia Books’ so I’ve picked the first of the six in the hope that newcomers might start here and keep on reading. Benson’s novels are yet another of my ‘greatest comic achievements in the English language in the 20th century’ – and I can’t think of any group of novels that has brought me as much pleasure as these. They’re trivial, pointless and repetitive, they deal with a slice of life so tiny as to make Jane Austen look like Tolstoy… and yet they’re some of the most profound things I’ve ever read. Benson had an instinctive understanding of what makes people tick: not the big issues of life, but the small talk, the rivalry and longing and curiosity that animates most of us most of the time. Well, me anyway. I think he also knew that we need to laugh, to be cheered up and entertained, and that’s why I always turn to these books in times of trouble. I can honestly say they have given me greater sustenance and consolation than religion, philosophy or politics ever could.

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Filed under My top 100 novels