Confessions Of A Book Traveller with Stephen Fry

Image: Elliott Spencer

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We’ve been asking our bookish friends near and far for their reflection on years of literature based travel. Here’s author and comedian Stephen Fry’s:


1. Which book character would you most like to live with?
Hm … Jeeves recommends himself for convenience and indulgence, I suppose. Or someone cheerful like Herbert Pocket.

2. Which book setting would you most like to travel to (real or fictional)?
Well again, at the risk of sounding a one-note Wodehouse trumpet, I honestly can’t imagine a more blissful place than Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth, his brother Galahad, his fearsome sister Constance and assorted other good and bad eggs. Escapist bliss of which I should doubtless be thoroughly ashamed.

3. Which book ending do you wish you could change and how?
A Handful of Dust. I was so upset by it when I first read what was otherwise a perfect book. Tony Last the “hero” ends up trapped far up the Amazon (or is it the Orinoco) being forced to read Bleak House for ever and ever to a demented missionary. I was shocked by the injustice. Of course, that’s Waugh’s worldview – bad things happen to good people and bad people often Get Away With It. Miss Prism when questioned about the story of her lost three volume novel replies: “The good ended happily, the bad ended unhappily, that is what fiction means …” And of course it is, as we should know now more than ever, pure fiction the idea that the bad are punished and the good rewarded. But when we are younger we look to fiction to offer the consolation of happy endings. Fantasy provides them, literature is too honest.

4. What’s your favourite book by a non-western author?
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Marukami perhaps. Insanely enjoyable, with a some emphasis on the “insanely” there’s a demented quality to the surreal and twisted nature of so much that goes on in it…. so many scenes stay with you for ever, a bit like the euphoric flashbacks from an acid trip (so they tell me).

5. Where is your reading spot?
Bed or an arm chair, nothing too surprising.

6. What is your all-time favourite book?
Oh lord and lord again. How can I answer that? The books I most reread seem to show how traditional and unadventurous I am, how steeped in “the canon”. Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Bleak House, Ulysses and The Great Gatsby are books I endlessly reread. But it’s like music, you go back to the tracks that played in the height of your teenage years when you discovered love, and thinking and feeling, and dissent. The same with books I think. Though there are some favourites that I can’t go back to now. I only have to look at a page of The Catcher in the Rye to be embarrassed for example, seems awful to me now, and horribly unkind. All in all I’d choose Bleak House I think. It’s a political novel disguised as a melodrama, mystery, adventure, romance and black comedy. I think it was Shaw who said that hundreds languish in gaols around Europe for writing pamphlets not one hundredth as seditious as Bleak House. Something like that.

troy book cover by stephen fry

Troy (published by Penguin Michael Joseph £20) by Stephen Fry is out now.

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