Frank Moorhouse : Five Fiction Favourites

by |December 8, 2011

Frank Moorhouse

author of The Edith Trilogy
Grand Days
Dark Palace

and now, Cold Light,


The 5 best novels I’ve read are…

Liber Amoris or The New Pygmalion

by William Hazlitt, 1823.

Frank Moorhouse: One critic has looked at the reception this book received and said, ‘seldom in literary history has a small work evoked such resolute hostility and aversion’. The critic, Cyril Connolly, said of Liber Amoris, ‘There is nothing like it in the English language. It remains a piece unique,a romantic catastrophe.’ Another critic saw it as one of the few expressions of genuine passion in the English language.

Blurb: In 1822 William Hazlitt, forty-four years old and married, was both tormented and enchanted by Sarah Walker, his landlady’s nineteen-year-old daughter.

Liber Amoris is the chronicle of that obsession, an extraordinary fragment of Romantic autobiography that explores the unstable nature of what individuals perceive as ‘truth’, the unknowability of others, and leaves the reader unsure of who is victim, who seducer in this haunting relationship.


Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

by George Eliot, 1874.

Frank Moorhouse: A novel by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans — she showed me how to weave the personal with the civic and political.

Blurb: ‘Plain women he regarded as he did the other severe facts of life, to be faced with philosophy and investigated by science’  –  Middlemarch

Dorothea is bright, beautiful and rebellious and has married the wrong man. Lydgate is the ambitious new doctor in town and has married the wrong woman. Both of them long to make a positive difference in the world. But their stories do not proceed as expected and both they, and the other inhabitants of Middlemarch, must struggle to reconcile themselves to their fates and find their places in the world.

Middlemarch contains all of life: the rich and the poor, the conventional and the radical, literature and science, politics and romance. Eliot’s novel is a stunningly compelling insight into the human struggle to find contentment.


The Fifth Column and The First Forty-nine Stories

by Ernest Hemingway, 1939.

Frank Moorhouse: The first hardback book I bought as a schoolboy and which taught me that the complex can be expressed simply.

Blurb: The First Forty-nine Stories – This is a collection of Hemingway’s first forty-nine short stories, featuring a brief introduction by the author and lesser known as well as familiar tales, including “Up in Michigan”, “Fifty Grand”, and “The Light of the World”, and the “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Winner Take Nothing” and “Men Without Women” collections.

‘There are many kinds of stories in this book. I hope you will find some that you like. . . In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had put it on the grindstone and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused. ‘ Ernest Hemingway, from his Preface

‘Mr Hemingway, applying that quick eye and wrist of his to the rings of the boxer and bull-fighter, achieves some unforgettable reporting of the world in which blood is argument. . . The author’s exceptional gift of narrative quality gives the excitement of a well-told tale to what is, in fact, a simple description of a scene. ‘ GUARDIAN



by James Joyce, 1922.

Frank Moorhouse: If you have trouble with this book the first time you should keep trying it every five years until it captures you.

Blurb: The edited version of Ulysses that caused so much controversy on its first publication. This edition is the accepted reference text for James Joyce studies.

Set entirely on one day, 16 June 1904, Ulysses follows Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus as they go about their daily business in Dublin. From this starting point, James Joyce constructs a novel of extraordinary imaginative richness and depth. Unique in the history of literature, Ulysses is one of the most important and enjoyable works of the twentieth century.

After its first publication in Paris in 1922, Ulysses was published in Great Britain by The Bodley Head in 1936. These editions, as well as the subsequent resettings of 1960 in Great britain and of 1961 in the US, included an increasing number of transmission and printing errors. In 1977 a team of scholars, led by Professor Hans Walter Gabler, began to study manuscript evidence, typescripts and proofs in an attempt to reconstruct Joyce’s creative process in order to come up with a more accurate text.

This edition uses the revised 1993 text of Gabler’s version.


Don Quixote

by Miguel de Cervantes, 1605.

Frank Moorhouse: One of the first novels about novels and which Dr Johnson said is amazing because by the time you finish it you cannot remember how it began.

Blurb: Widely regarded as the world’s first modern novel, and one of the funniest and most tragic books ever written, DON QUIXOTE chronicles the famous picaresque adventures of the noble knight-errant Don Quixote de La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they travel through sixteenth-century Spain.

Unless you read Spanish, until now you’ve never read DON QUIXOTE.

Don Quixote is the first modern novel, perhaps the most eternal novel ever written and certainly the fountainhead of European and American fiction… What a unique monument is this book! How its creative genius, critical, free, and human, soars above its age! … A fluent translation-has energy and clarity-and the rhythm of the telling is compelling – Guardian

Indisputably the definitive translation – Observer

Cervantes is the founder of the Modern Era. The novelist need answer to no one but Cervantes. Don Quixote is practically unthinkable as a living being, and yet, in our memory, what character is more alive?… Don Quixote begins as a province, turns into Spain, and ends as a universe. . . . The true spell of Cervantes is that he is a natural magician in pure story-telling… This new translation of the Spanish classic is a marvel-It is impossible not to approve of this book in every respect-I find it impossible to imagine that a better novel will be published this year – Daily Telegraph


Many thanks to Frank Moorhouse for sharing with us his Five Fiction Favourites…

Frank Moorhouse recently published the third and final part in the epic story of Edith Campbell Berry – COLD LIGHT

It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional, husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra.

Edith now has ambitions to become Australia’s first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be ‘a city like no other’.

When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country.

It is also not a safe time or place to be ‘a wife with a lavender husband’. After pursuing the Bloomsbury life for many years, Edith finds herself fearful of being exposed. Unexpectedly, in mid-life she also realises that she yearns for children. When she meets a man who could offer not only security but a ready-made family, she consults the Book of Crossroads and the answer changes the course of her life.

Intelligent, poignant and absorbing, Cold Light is a remarkable stand-alone novel, which can also be read as a companion to the earlier Edith novels Grand Days and Dark Palace.

Frank Moorhouse answered Booktopia’s Ten Terrifying Questions, recently – read his answers here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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