10 British Novels from the 1980’s

Hello and welcome to a Sunday Morning Meet-Up
in which I discuss 10 British Novels from the 1980’s.
The 10 novels I have picked represent each year of the decade from 1980 to 1989. British Novel number one was published in
1980: Necropolis, which is a Gothic novel by Basil
Copper. The novel is set in Victorian England. Clyde
Beatty, a private investigator, is hired by Angela Meredith to investigate her father’s
death. His investigations lead him to a nursing home in Surrey, directed by the sinister Dr.
Horace Couchman. After an autopsy reveals the murder of Miss Meredith’s father, Dr.
Couchman flees to London leading Beatty eventually to the eerie Brockwood Cemetery and a criminal
conspiracy involving millions of pounds worth of gold bullion. Other British novels published in 1980 include:
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe which is the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide
to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett,
The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth, And Rites of Passage by William Golding. British Novel number two was published in
1981: Loitering with Intent by Scottish author Muriel
Spark which was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1981. It contains many autobiographical
references to Spark’s early career. Fleur Talbot is struggling to complete her
first novel, Warrender Chase, in London in the early 1950s. She manages to secure a job
working for Sir Quentin Oliver as secretary to the Autobiographical Association, whose
eccentric members are seeking to write their memoirs. Fleur assists them and gains valuable
source material for her novel, while growing increasingly suspicious that Sir Quentin may
be blackmailing the association’s members. Sir Quentin meanwhile discovers Fleur’s novel
in progress and seeks to suppress it, as it reveals his plans. Fact and fiction imitate
each other as Fleur and Sir Quentin compete for the truth. Other British novels published in 1981 include:
A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd, which was filmed in 1994. The film starred Colin
Friels, Sean Connery, John Lithgow, Joanne Whalley, Diana Rigg and Louis Gossett, Jr. And Sharpe’s Eagle which is a historical novel
in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. The series was televised with Sean Bean as
Richard Sharpe. British Novel number three was published in
1982: Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes is a black
comedy which scrutinizes the awakening of sexual jealousy in a dull and otherwise sensible
college lecturer. After fifteen years of marriage to a nagging
woman who despises everything about him Graham Hendrick files for divorce and marries Ann,
a beautiful former actress and seemingly the woman of his dreams. Initially he believes
this to be the start of the good life and congratulates himself daily, hourly but as
he learns more about Ann’s past he starts to obsess over the time before he knew her,
resenting her previous love affairs, apparently unable to accept that she enjoyed a life at
all before they met. As Graham imagines non-existent humiliations and concocts plans for revenge
upon previous lovers his increasingly strange behaviour begins to alarm first his wife and
then his friend Jack, whom he soon suspects of having an affair with his wife. Other British novels published in 1982 include:
An Ice-Cream War which is a darkly comic war novel by Scottish author William Boyd,
2010: Odyssey Two which is a science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. It is the sequel
to the 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, And The Man from St. Petersburg which is a
thriller by Ken Follett. British Novel number four was published in
1983: The Woman in Black is a horror novel by Susan
Hill, written in the style of a traditional Gothic novel. The plot concerns a mysterious
spectre that haunts a small English town, heralding the death of children.
The story begins with Arthur Kipps, a retired solicitor. The story is based on his horrific
experiences several years in the past. Many years earlier, whilst still a junior
solicitor, Kipps attended the funeral of a Mrs. Alice Drablow. The late Drablow was an
elderly and reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House. The house is situated on Nine Lives Causeway.
At high tide, it is completely cut off from the mainland. Kipps soon realizes there is
more to Alice Drablow than he originally thought. At the funeral, he sees a woman dressed in
black and with a pale face and dark eyes, whom a group of children are silently watching.
While sorting through Mrs Drablow’s papers at Eel Marsh House over the course of several
days, he endures an increasingly terrifying sequence of unexplained noises, chilling events
and appearances by the Woman in Black. In one of these instances, he hears the sound
of a horse and carriage in distress, closely followed by the screams of a young child and
his maid, coming from the direction of the marshes. What happens next is… but you’ll
have to read the story to find out. Other British novels published in 1983 include:
Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré,
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, And Scandal, or Priscilla’s Kindness by A.
N. Wilson. British Novel number five was published in
1984: Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard. The name
of the novel is derived from the etymology of the name for Japan. The novel recounts the story of a young British
boy, Jamie Graham who lives with his parents in Shanghai. After the Pearl Harbour attack,
Japan occupies the Shanghai International Settlement, and in the following chaos Jim
becomes separated from his parents. He spends some time in abandoned mansions,
living on remnants of packaged food. Having exhausted the food supplies, he decides to
try to surrender to the Imperial Japanese Army. After many attempts, he finally succeeds
and is interned in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre. Although the Japanese are “officially” the
enemies, Jim identifies partly with them, both because he adores the pilots with their
splendid machines and because he feels that Lunghua is still a comparatively safer place
for him. Towards the end of the war, with the Japanese
army collapsing, the food supply runs short. Jim barely survives, with people around him
starving to death. The camp prisoners are forced upon a march to Nantao, with many dying
along the route. Jim then leaves the march and is saved from starvation by air drops
from American planes. Jim returns to Lunghua camp and soon after returns to his pre-war
residence with his parents. Other British novels published in 1984 include:
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner,
The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth, And The Paper Men by William Golding.
Book number six was published in 1985: Black Robe is an historical novel by Brian
Moore set in New France in the 17th century. Its central theme is the collision of European
and Native American cultures soon after first contact. First Nations peoples historically
called French Jesuit priests “Black Robes” because of their religious habit.
In Quebec, a tribe of Algonquian agree in exchange for muskets to guide the “Black Robe”
(Father Laforgue), and his 20-year-old French assistant Daniel Davost, for a few weeks upriver
to a spot beyond a set of rapids. There, Father Laforgue travels onward to the Huron village
where a Jesuit mission is already established. Along the way, Father Laforgue falls under
suspicion of being a demon and his attempts to convert and baptize his Algonquian guides
are unsuccessful. He is captured by unfriendly Iroquois who torture him, but he escapes and
eventually arrives at the fever-ridden Huron village. In exchange for promising them a
“water cure” for the sickness the Indians agree to be baptized. Other British novels published in 1985 include:
The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch, Rebuilding Coventry by Sue Townsend,
And Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.
Book number seven was published in 1986: The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis.
Alun Weaver, a writer of modest celebrity, returns to his native Wales with his wife,
Rhiannon, sometime girlfriend of Weaver’s old acquaintance Peter Thomas. Alun begins
associating with a group of former friends, including Peter, all of whom have continued
to live locally while he was away. While drinking in the house of another acquaintance, Alun
drops dead, leaving the rest of the group to pick up the pieces of their brief reunion. The Old Devils is considered to be Amis’s
masterpiece by his son, Martin Amis, who wrote in his memoir, “it stands comparison with
any English novel of the century.” The novel won the Booker Prize and it was
also adapted for television by Andrew Davies for the BBC in 1992, starring John Stride. Other British novels published in 1986 include:
The Bridge by Iain Banks, The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian,
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré, And The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.
Book number eight was published in 1987: The Commitments by Irish writer Roddy Doyle,
and is the first episode in The Barrytown Trilogy. It is a tale about a group of unemployed
young people in the north side of Dublin, Ireland, who start a soul band.
Two friends get together to form a band, but soon realise that they don’t know enough to
get much further than their small neighbourhood in the Northside of Dublin. To solve this
problem, they recruit a friend they’d had from school, Jimmy Rabbitte, to be their manager.
He accepts graciously, but only if he can make fundamental changes to the group, the
first being the sacking of the third, and mutually disliked, member — their synth
player. After this, Rabbitte changes their name, making them “The Commitments.”
With music fanatic Jimmy Rabbite as their manager, the Commitments seek to fulfil their
goal of bringing soul to Dublin. Other British novels published in 1987 include:
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, The Child in Time by Ian McEwan,
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher And A Fatal Inversion by Ruth Rendell.
British Novel number nine was published in 1988: The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace.
The novel, written in poetic language, takes place at the end of the Neolithic period,
and is narrated by the village storyteller. As a boy, the storyteller lost an arm and
became an outcast to the villagers who rely heavily on their stonemasonry skills. The
boy leaves the confines of the village, in order to seek a role for himself, and discovers
his adeptness at telling stories. The storyteller returns to the village, but
most of his time is spent acting as a protector for a widow and her child who had also been
forced out of the village, and live two days’ walk away. Periodically, he returns to the
village charged with new stories to tell. The novel deals with the nature of truth and
fiction. The reader is often presented with variations of the narrative and invited to
judge which, if any, to accept as reality. It also deals with social change and the effects
of revolutionary new technology and as such could be seen as sympathising with the victims
of our modern post-industrial age. Other British novels published in 1988 include:
Sharpe’s Rifles by Bernard Cornwell, The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst,
And Duncton Wood by William Horwood. British Novel number ten was published in
1989: Restoration by Rose Tremain. The novel tells the story of Robert Merivel,
who begins the book as a medical student, studying alongside his serious, practical
friend John Pearce. John is a studious, pious counterpart to Merivel’s shallow obsession
with status, drinking and eating to excess. Pearce condemns the sinfulness of Merivel’s
lifestyle, but Merivel is unaffected by his comments. Merivel is asked by his father to visit the
King with the aim of continuing their family’s connection with the royal family, but Merivel
embarrasses both of them by his nervousness. However, later, King Charles II asks Merivel
to care for one of his dogs, which is grievously ill. Merivel’s decision not to apply any of
the traditional cures of the era leads to the dog recovering naturally, and he is then
appointed surgeon to all of the king’s dogs. The King then arranges a marriage of convenience
between Merivel and one of his mistresses, Celia Clemence. This is done purely to fool
the king’s other mistress Barbara Castlemaine. Merivel is given an estate named Bidnold in
Norfolk, and Celia is installed in a house in Kew, where the King can visit her secretly.
And the story continues from there. Other British novels published in 1989 include:
London Fields, which is a black comic, murder mystery by Martin Amis,
Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess, Stark by Ben Elton,
And The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. And now for this week’s Sunday Sentence:

6 Replies to “10 British Novels from the 1980’s

  1. Two Julian Barnes novels in this list. I have read a bit of his work and liked the older things better than his newer books. Also, I enjoyed The Commitments and the entire Barrytown trilogy quite a bit. London Fields is my favorite Martin Amis novel. Great Sunday Sentence.

  2. I've read a couple of the additional novels you mentioned. Hotel du Lac and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit are both very good.

  3. My favourite read of the novels mentioned is Iain Banks' 'The Bridge', the guy had an extraordinary imagination (although he seemed to run out of steam in his later works).
    'Restoration', 'An Ice Cream War', and 'Empire of the Sun' are also all excellent.
    But the best bit of these videos is hearing about all the books I haven't read yet – thank you!

  4. This was a great ramble through my reading in the 80s and I read a lot of the titles you mentioned. Not sure Roddy Doyle would class himself as a British novelist though ! Wonderfully produced and interesting video as always Alan.

  5. So many of these sound good Alan thank you! I think I will check out Black Robe first 🙃
    As a child I read the Hitchhikers Guide series, many a day spent in our school’s library looking over the giant one with movie pictures!

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