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RETROS

TIPPING THE VELVET

(Virago £9.99, 478pp)

(Virago £9.99, 478pp)

by Sarah Waters

(Virago £9.99, 478pp)

Republished by Virago as part of its celebration of feminist writing, this extraordinary, award-winning debut, set in the secret lesbian world of Victorian London, caused a sensation when it was published in 1998.

It follows Nan King, an oyster girl from Whitstable, who falls in love and moves to London with a male impersonator. They become a successful music hall double act before Nan is cruelly betrayed, becomes a cross-dressing prostitute and then the ‘kept’ sexual plaything of a wealthy woman until she finds unlikely happiness.

It’s a romp full of memorable characters, although Waters now says she’d like to give Nan a ‘kick up the arse’.

HOTEL DU LAC

(Penguin Essentials £8.99, 192pp)

(Penguin Essentials £8.99, 192pp)

by Anita Brookner

(Penguin Essentials £8.99, 192pp)

Winner of the 1984 Booker Prize — controversially beating JG Ballard’s Empire Of The Sun —this quiet, witty, reflective novel stands the test of time.

Edith Hope, mistress to a married lover and writer of romantic novels ‘under a more thrusting name’, has exiled herself to a Swiss hotel after brutally jilting her fiance at the altar.

There, the melancholic surroundings reflect her emotional state as various guests (sharply, and sometimes cruelly, portrayed by Brookner) try to encourage a new lifestyle.

After a pragmatic but unromantic proposal from the blunt Mr Neville, Edith reaches an understanding with herself that frees her from obligation in a very modern way.

CLERGYMAN’S DAUGHTER

(Constable £10.99, 302pp)

(Constable £10.99, 302pp)

by George Orwell

(Constable £10.99, 302pp)

Orwell’s second novel traces the unhappy experience of Dorothy Hare, the spinster daughter of a cold, controlling cleric father in Suffolk.

Dutiful Dorothy is terrified of sex and, after an encounter with a local lothario, suffers an amnesiac breakdown, ending up first in London, then scraping a living as a hop picker, a street sleeper and teacher in an abusive private school before a rescue — of sorts.

Orwell draws on his days spent with hop workers in Kent and down-and-outs in London for authenticity, but the most striking feature is how the crushing of Dorothy’s attempt at independence foreshadows the fate of Winston Smith in his masterpiece, 1984.



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