Here are five books with a common allegorical thread and that opened my imagination
My favourite reads: Michael Barnard
It was only when compiling these favourite reads that I realised all have something in common: an allegorical thread where a character or plot device symbolises something on a larger scale. For me, reading as a child opened the doors on my imagination, taking me on many strange and wonderful journeys. To know that the pages within a book can be the key to another kingdom made reading a true passion for this child growing up in 1970s Britain.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis (1950)
A wardrobe in a spare room turns out to be a portal to the land of Narnia, populated by talking animals and ruled by the White Witch. Four siblings embark on these voyages after they discover Narnia. Every child might at some stage invent an imaginary friend – and they vividly come to life in these chronicles. A fantasy tale that became a template for my literary choices.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein (1961)
Ahead of its time in every sense, this science-fiction classic is now in production as a TV movie. It concerns Valentine Michael Smith, a human born on a spacecraft and raised by Martians, now back in a post-Third World War US. It explores how much about the human race is innate and how much is acquired – Smith’s naivety soon has him in trouble.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1951)
Roughly translating to “he who has found the meaning”, this is one man’s spiritual awakening. He fasts, renounces personal possessions, becomes homeless and meditates on his quest. First published in German in 1922, the story has a simple structure, yet lessons learnt are deep and profound: “Knowledge can be imparted, but not wisdom. One can find it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (1990)
Another journey, this time undertaken by Karim Amir, another protagonist feeling alienated. London provides the backdrop for his encounters with a host of colourful characters, with pop music featuring prominently. Racism is a recurrent theme, with the author being of Pakistani-English descent. It was later made into a BBC drama series.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)
One final journey, again with a London backdrop (the film version is set in New York). It’s a psychological thriller told first-person by three women whose lives intertwine. A couple spotted from a train fascinate one passenger, who idealises their situation and even gives them names. The descriptions are highly evocative of my own time as a London commuter.
Michael Barnard is a sub-editor for The National