Colorful Novels – Wonderful Novels with at Least One Color in Their Title


Each of the following novels have met three qualifications:  1) It has been read by me. 2) It received my highest rating when I read it. 3) It has at least one color in its title.


blue‘The Blue Flower’ by Penelope Fitzgerald (1997) – This is one of many fine short novels by Fitzgerald, this about the German Romantic writer Novalis.  Here is a historical novel for people who don’t like historical novels.




letter‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathanial Hawthorne (1850) – Hester Prynne is found guilty of adultery and must wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her dress to shame her.  Don’t be afraid to read Hawthorne.  I find him as easy a read as Mark Twain although in a totally different style.




‘Black Swan Green’ by David Mitchell (2006) – I loved this little novel about a Worcestershire boy with a speech disorder, whereas I find some of Mitchell’s longer stuff perplexing.  I have high hopes for ‘Slade House’ which will be released soon and is again a shorter novel.




‘From the Black Hills’ by Judy Troy (1999) – This is a strong coming of age work about a son who must contend with his father’s dark deeds.  The father has shot and killed his female receptionist lover and has disappeared.   This sounds melodramatic, but these things do happen, and Troy’s skill as a novelist pulls it off well.



f25d9e9bcad54884bb990b9de3e42637‘The Red and the Black’ by Stendhal (1830) – ‘Red’ stands for army, and ‘Black’ stands for clergy.  This novel about young man Julien Sorel is considered the first psychological novel.

“The idea which tyrants find most useful is the idea of God.” – Stendhal




‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess (1962) – After a night of ultra-violence with his gang of droogs, Alex is sent off to prison for aversion therapy to cure him.  This is a dystopian novel that resonates and sickens with modern psychological theory.





514ejli9TeL._AC_UL200_SR128,200_‘The Rose Garden’ by Maeve Brennan (2000) – I suppose this is cheating since ‘Rose’ is both a plant and a color.  However if there is an opportunity to include Maeve Brennan in a list, I will do so.  This is a short story collection by one of the wittiest people who ever lived.

“The impulse toward good involves choice and is complicated, and the impulse toward bad is hideously easy and simple.” – Maeve Brennan



‘The Golden Droplet’ by Michel Tournier (1987) – Again I cheat as ‘Gold’ is both a mineral and a color.  And again Michel Tournier is a writer worthy of inclusion, no matter what.  Michel Tournier is a writer of fairy tales for adults, and this is one of his finest.





‘White Noise’ by Don DeLillo (1985) – An industrial accident unleashes an “Airborne Toxic Event”.  This is a brilliant post-modern novel.  Lev Grossman said ‘White Noise’ is “pitched at a level of absurdity slightly above that of real life.”




mtjykTvSeT2OI3ihZGq1hNw‘The Golden Spur’ by Dawn Powell (1962) – A young man is in search of his real father which could be any one of three men.  This is a raucous outrageous novel told with Powell’s sparkling wit.

“Hold fast to whatever fragments of love that exist, for sometimes a mosaic is more beautiful than an unbroken pattern. – Dawn Powell



01200000029156134398085025912_s‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber (2002) – Here is a vivid obscene Victorian novel for today.  The Victorian Era was much sexier than we ever considered.

“History indulges strange whims in the way it dresses its women.”  – Michel Faber

‘High-Rise’ by J. G. Ballard – War in the Elevators

‘High-Rise’ by J. G. Ballard   (1973) – 204 pages


‘High-Rise’ is a unique novel rescued from the 1970s which will soon be a major movie starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, and Sienna Miller.

About 2000 people live in the 40-floor high-rise luxury apartment building.  We readers don’t even find out what city or country the high-rise is located in, because the building is pretty much self-contained with its own supermarket, swimming pools, high-speed elevators, exercise facilities, restaurants, and liquor stores.  Except to go to work, the residents find little reason to leave the building.

We see events in the building through the eyes of the recently divorced doctor Robert Laing who has an apartment on the twenty-fifth floor.  This being the Seventies, Dr. Laing has an eye out for the ladies, and he often gets invited to cocktail parties usually hosted by the well-to-do childless couples on the upper floors.  The less affluent people on the lower floors are too busy with their children to throw elaborate parties.  Dr. Laing is in the middle, between the upper class residents above and the relatively lower class residents below.

Although the well-to-do upper class residents don’t have children, many do have expensive dogs, and they are usually extremely fussy and exacting about their dogs.  What irritates these people is when the residents from the lower floors bring their kids up to the pool on the upper floor, and the kids pee in the swimming pool.   Another source of dispute between the floors are the elevators which the residents on the lower floors can bring to a halt and make live miserable for those above.

Soon everyone is complaining about the shiftlessness of those on the lower floors or the arrogance of those on the upper floors.  The first violence breaks out when a dog from the upper floors is found drowned in the swimming pool.  Things degenerate quickly with skirmishes breaking out among the residents.  Those on the upper floors throw bottles down on the balconies below.  The lower floors retaliate by taking over the elevators.

The violence escalates, and soon there is all-out war between the floors.  There are punitive expeditions, and apartments are ransacked.   The electricity goes out sporadically for no good reason.  Fights break out in the hallways.  Cars parked outside are vandalized.    Soon the residents of this ultra-modern apartment building revert to primitive savagery.

This is indeed a brilliant idea for a novel, and I would give the author an A+ for plot.  The situation is original and intriguing.  However, I found the portrayals of the people in the novel somewhat disappointing, so I will only give the author a C+ for characterization.  The male characters are little more than stick figures.  The female characters, this being the Seventies, are little more than stick figures with breasts, hips, and thighs.  The person or persons who write the screenplay for the movie and the actors will need to flesh out real characters that the audience can identify with.

Read ‘High-Rise’ for its amazing plot.

Grade: B+ 

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck   (2015) – 238 pages


‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is a largely autobiographical work by Lily Tuck that also contains many black-and-white pictures of her family and friends during her childhood years, yet on its back cover are the words “A Novel”.  Her life story makes most of our own life stories seem insufferably plain and dull in comparison.

Liliane was born just before World War II, and both of her parents were from Germany.  Her father, being a movie producer, travels with an international set, and he happens to be in France just before the Nazi takeover but without a passport.  This is critical, because he does have Jewish ancestors in his background although they have converted to Lutheranism.  The dancer Josephine Baker helps him get a passport and escape France just before the Nazi takeover.

Liliane’s mother has Jewish relatives in her background also.  She has beauty such that she is often compared to Great Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.  She and Liliane wound up spending the war years in Peru far from Germany.

I had never considered before the plight of the millions of people who had just one Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent.  There must have been all these gradations of Jewishness that would cause widespread fear and panic among the general population.

After the war, Liliane’s father and mother are together for a short time, but then they divorce with the mother and Liliane in New York and the father off producing movies in Italy.  The mother soon remarries.  The double life for Liliane is her cross-Atlantic arrangement set up by her parents.  In an early chapter of the novel, we have 9-year-old Liliane traveling by herself on an airplane from New York to Italy to stay with her father.   In Italy she watches first-hand the fast set of movie stars, directors, producers, and others.

As the novel progresses, the girl Liliane turns into a young woman with adventures of her own.  Through her father she has lunch with the Italian writer Alberto Moravia who relates some of his times while married to the writer Elsa Morante.

Lily Tuck doesn’t overplay her hand by trying to make the events in the novel seem more exciting or glamorous than they really were.  She downplays her childhood experiences if anything, since they are colorful enough as is. This is in contrast to what frequently happens with memoirs.  When someone writes about their own life, they often get so caught up in telling their story that they forget to entertain.  Thus memoirs can be deadly for the reader.

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is another example of the recent mode of blending fiction with non-fiction on the order of  W. G. Sebald or Karl Ove Knausgaard.  I am somewhat skeptical of the results of this Reality trend, but in ‘The Double Life of Liliane’, the reader is not forgotten.  Even though the story treads very closely to the author’s life, it is told with the zest and creativity of fiction.

Grade:   B+

‘Lines of Life’ by Francois Mauriac – The Attractions of Wickedness

‘Lines of Life (Destins)’ by Francois Mauriac   (1928) –  153 pages    Translated by Gerard Hopkins

mauriac-lines (1)

I was first tuned in to the awesome fiction of French novelist Francois Mauriac by my trusty literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith whose ‘Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature’ was and is my constant guide.

Seymour-Smith shares the view of most critics that Mauriac wrote all of his greatest work before 1933.  Up until then Mauriac wrote intense moral dramas about the ongoing battle between Evil and Good in everyday life. In early Mauriac, Evil is so attractive and Good is so smug that a winner is by no means assured. After that Mauriac turned to Christianity and Catholicism with a vengeance, and the critical consensus was that he then stacked the deck in his fiction in favor of Good, and that his work weakened due to his new-found religious fervor.   I still follow Seymour-Smith’s advice and have not read any of Mauriac’s work written in 1933 or after. By this point, Mauriac was already 47 years old and had written several masterpieces including ‘A Kiss for the Leper’, ‘Genitrix’, ‘The Desert of Love’, ‘Therese Desqueyroux’, and ‘The Knot of Vipers’, all of which I have read.  ‘Lines of Life’ is considered a near masterpiece in Mauriac’s work.

One of the qualities that make Mauriac’s pre-1933 fiction so appealing is how he depicts the life of Evil as quite delightful, just like it is in real life.  The ‘hero’ of ‘Lines of Life’ is Bob Lagave, the dissolute son of a landowner in Bordeaux.  Bob is “a young man whose only concern is to seduce others, to soil others, to lead them to damnation”.  His hardworking father has only contempt for his son:

“But there’s some as takes their fun and does a bit of work too.  There’s a time and a place for all things.  But this young man’s a no-good, if not worse.”

Bob has taken up the Paris high life which his father despises.

But the real moral center of the novel is the neighbor Elizabeth who closely observes one of Bob’s romantic exploits and develops a passion for him even though she is much older than he.  Elizabeth’s son Pierre who is a religious fanatic accidentally spies on Bob and his young woman trysting in Elizabeth’s yard and condemns Bob in no uncertain terms, after which Bob punches him in the face.

Women are not off the hook in this morality drama either.  The young woman who was caught trysting with Bob later says,

“After all,” she said: why should one give up a young man on the ground that he is not worthy to be one’s husband? Marriage is one thing, love quite another.”

 Now that is a statement that would make any devout Christian cringe.

A Bordeaux Wine Farm

A Bordeaux Wine Farm

One of the ways to measure the impact of a writer is to look at his or her followers.  Two of Mauriac’s ardent followers are the writers Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, two writers I hugely admire. I suppose it is somewhat strange that I, born and raised a Lutheran, am so enamored of the Catholic novelist Mauriac, but one cannot help liking what one likes, and I find Mauriac a simpatico spirit.

I find that these pre-1933 fictions of Francois Mauriac go deeper into analyzing the souls of the characters than other writers.  Even though Bob in ‘Lines of Life’ is held in contempt by his father and is condemned by the religious, he is ultimately viewed sympathetically as we all must be.  The battle between Good and Evil is not as clear-cut as it is sometimes made out to be.


Grade: A-  


“A Most Imperfect Union – A Contrarian History of the United States” by Ilan Stavans and Lalo Alcaraz

‘A Most Imperfect Union’, a graphic novel written by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz  (2014) – 252 pages


Here is a chronological pictorial history of the United States told by two Mexican immigrants.  It is a contrarian view as indicated by its author:

“I often criticize the United States for those aspects of its culture and national character that make me uncomfortable: its insatiable appetite for pleasure, its plastic-surgery aesthetics, its love of consumption, its frequent ignorance of history, its xenophobic disposition, its condescending political correctness, its arrogant foreign policy.” 

Despite his sometimes contrary views, Ilan Stavans is an American by choice, an immigrant.

As a child I received a very traditional view of American history in my one-room grade school in western Wisconsin.  First the history was United States-centric.  We were hardly taught anything about the rest of the world, even about our nearest neighbors Canada and Mexico.  Yet we were told every detail about George Washington, even the story ending in ‘I cannot tell a lie.  I chopped down the cherry tree.”  About the trials and tribulations of the Native-Americans, we were only told that the Pilgrims invited them to Thanksgiving dinner.  We were taught that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and that act put an end to racial problems in the United States.  Even though we were only eight years old when we were taught this stuff, I can’t believe how naïve we were.

The first thing I did when I got to college was sign up for a course in European history, because the only things we were taught about Europe were the names of the explorers who first discovered America.

So first of all, ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ is a necessary corrective to the simple-minded view of history that was instilled in us at an early age.  I could even see this graphic novel being used in grade schools to give children another view of American history at an early age besides that of the history textbooks.  ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ deals with American history all the way up to 2014.

download (7)However I do have one objection to one page of the book.  This is the page that is pictured here, “Pilgrims vs. Indians” – The Jamestown Massacre”.  This was a massacre on March 22, 1622 in which the Powhatan Indians killed at least 347 Jamestown settlers.  Just about any grade school student in the United States could tell the authors that the settlers at Jamestown were not Pilgrims; they were English and other European settlers in search of economic opportunity.  The Pilgrims who left England to escape religious persecution settled up north in New England.  To any even casual student of United States history this mistake by the authors is near unforgivable.

Overall  ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ does raise important points on nearly every step along the way.  It is an especially fun book for those of us who have been taught a very traditional view of United States history.  The artwork by Lalo Alcaraz is also impressive.


Grade: B+   


‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ by Jonathan Evison – Light and Devastating

‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ by Jonathan Evison   (2015) – 294 pages


25810633The world and its events are heavy enough.  Sometimes the best way to approach it is with lightness.  It takes a certain kind of genius to compose lines like:

“Tide, Wisk, Cheer, you’ve tried them all – yes, even All.”

This novel is constructed like the old TV show ‘This is Your Life’ where the host walks through the entire life of the main guest through a series of short vignettes recalling various scenes that were significant to this person.  Of course on the television show, the scenes recalled were all happy uplifting events that made the guests feel good about their lives.  However a novel does not face this feel-good restriction.  There are disturbing events recalled in ‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ that you would never expect to find in a light humorous novel or TV show.

As it turns out this is an excellent way to tell the story of a person’s life, because that is how our minds work all day (and sometimes all night) long.  We flash back to the various incidents that have occurred throughout our lives, the good and the bad, in seemingly random fashion, but they all somehow fit together to define who we are now.

Harriet Chance is 78 years old.  Her husband of many years died almost a year ago, after a long disastrous spell of Alzheimer’s disease.  She has two children, a son and daughter.  Now Harriet is planning to go on an Alaskan cruise for two which her deceased husband had signed up for a long time ago.  She wants to take along her best woman friend from the neighborhood.  So far, so normal.

Then we flash back to scenes that go all the way back to Harriet’s early childhood to scenes when she was a young professional single woman up to scenes from her married and family life.

evisonJonathan_0By the end of the novel we get the full picture of Harriet Chance, and it is a mostly sad picture for such a seemingly light humorous novel. I admire the dexterity of Jonathan Evison’s writing style that he can switch from light and breezy to heartbreaking in just a few sentences.  His novel seems a lot more accurate than many other novels which attempt to be more serious and profound. This is a poignant story of a woman reconciling the various parts of her often awful life, which in Harriet’s case is a near impossible thing to do.

Can a novel be both light and devastating?  ‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ is.


Grade:   A-


‘The Nature of the Beast’ by Louise Penny – A Return to Three Pines

‘The Nature of the Beast’ by Louise Penny    (2015) –   394 pages


Once again we are in the charming picturesque French-Canadian village of Three Pines in Quebec, just north of the Vermont border.  The locals are putting on an amateur play, “She Sat Down and Wept” which former Chief Inspector Gamache recognizes as the work of notorious imprisoned criminal John Fleming.

Meanwhile the dead body of a nine year-old boy from the village, Laurent, is discovered in the woods nearby.  Near the body, a huge artillery gun is found buried in the dense undergrowth.  Soon members of the Canadian intelligence service arrive as well as a mysterious professor from McGill University who knows a lot more about the gun than he admits.

The colorful town eccentrics at Three Pines do show up including Ruth Zardo and her pet duck Rosa as well as the two men who run the best bistro in the known world.   With the intelligence agents, the professor, the cast members and director of the play, the new Chief Inspector, and the townspeople, there is a large crew of characters in ‘The Nature of the Beast’, perhaps too many for a reader to keep track of easily.

This is the second Chief Inspector Gamache novel that I’ve read.  I thought that the first one, ‘How the Light Gets In’, transcended the mystery genre.  It was a gripping and engaging story of corruption in high places, an excellent novel regardless of the category.

However, ‘The Nature of the Beast’ has a contrived outlandish plot about Operation Babylon and gigantic missile launcher guns named Baby Babylon and Big Babylon.  Sadly I could never quite accept this plot with the big guns as believable.  Even though the plot is based in part on a real story, I found these monster guns quite incongruous with the small town life of Three Pines.  Things also get a bit too convoluted for my taste.

“The Nature of the Beast’ had more of the feel of an artificial mystery than of actual life.

This novel will probably appeal to fans of mysteries and fans of Louise Penny but probably will not have a wider appeal to readers seeking more literary fare.


Grade: B


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