My picks of the 1932 top selling novels

None of the novels on the 1932 bestseller list are great books. Three of them, however, are  insightful character studies that are well worth reading today.

First place in my list is the 10th place novel on the list: Three Loves by A. J. Cronin.  Cronin tells the story of a passionate woman who devotes herself first to her husband, then to her son, and then to God, only to find none of them is willing to do what she wants them to do. Three Loves, in my opinion, is Cronin’s best novel, far better than the medical-religious tales for which he is best known.

My second place honors are shared by two novels shaped in very different ways by the French battlefields of World War I.

Magnolia Street by Louis Golding looks at the relationship—or more precisely the lack of relationship—between Jews and gentiles on a single English city block.  As a novel, Magnolia Street is disjointed and repetitious; as a living microcosom, it’s heartbreaking.

Old Wine and New by Warwick Deeping tells the story of  returning vet who finds himself old, redundant, and unworthy of notice by the bright young things who weren’t over there.   Solid story telling and  characters who do whatever’s necessary to get up after life’s hard knocks make this novel good reading.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Magnolia Street Throbs with Emotion

1914-1918 engraged on a war cenotaph

Between 1910 and 1930 in England’s North County city of Doomington, Jews live on the odd-numbered side of Magnolia Street and gentiles live on the even-numbered side. Those 24 households hold a microcosm of human nature complicated by clashing cultures.

For the most part, Jews and gentiles don’t even recognize each others’ existence. Few make an attempt to cross the street; even fewer succeed. The threat of war hangs over both sides of the street like August humidity, invisible yet palpable.

With his eye for detail and ear for speech, author Louis Golding makes Magnolia Street pulsate with life, sob with loss, and keen the dead who died for nothing at all.

Magnolia Street has no plot to speak of. The book is a collection of related episodes hung together by a few names and anecdotes. You can lay the book down and pick up again days later without having lost the thread of the plot because Golding is constantly reminding readers who so-and-so is.

Perhaps because of those deficiencies, the novel feels like the visit of a slightly older childhood friend who helps you understand the half-remembered events and conversations that shaped your life. It’s no great novel, but it’s an intense emotional experience.

Magnolia Street
Louis Golding
Five Leaves Publications, 2006
531 pages
1932 bestseller #4

Photo credit:  “First World War” An engraving on a war cenotaph uploaded by mistereels

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni