The bestselling author suggests key novels to help you through the trickier times in life
Careers advice was a primitive business when I was at school: we were given ten minutes for each girl, in which limitations were explained and expectations lowered.
So my announcement to the ‘advisers’ that I wanted to be an actress caused consternation.
They decided that — if I must be so very unconventional — I should put on a uniform and join the Wrens. Personal ambition was unseemly in the Seventies. It should be kept under wraps.
Bestselling author Gill Hornby recommends her favourite tomes on ambition to help readers through trickier times in life. She recommends Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire Of The Vanities
By the Eighties, though, it burst out, and with it came greed and consumption at its most conspicuous, as so brilliantly captured by Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire Of The Vanities.
Sherman McCoy aimed high and got there: he’s a flashy, arrogant bond trader on Wall Street who sees himself as a master of the universe.
His lifestyle is lavish, he ‘haemorrhages money’, and his only interests are himself, his own power, and his own status.
There are still plenty of Shermans around, and nothing seems to get in their way. At least this fictional one deservedly comes a cropper.
Every week bestselling author Gill Hornby suggests key novels to help you through the trickier times in life
Of course, however ambitious you are, it doesn’t mean you’ll make it. The excellent Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is the story of a group who meet as teenagers, convinced of their own inevitable greatness. Yes, they are interesting and have a burning desire to be special. But they find that when you follow your dreams, there are all sorts of invisible forces — economics, personality, luck — just waiting to trip you up.
The best cautionary tale about the joys and perils of personal ambition is still Dickens’s Great Expectations. Pip is determined to better himself, if only to become worthy of the beautiful Estella. Unlike The Interestings, fate is on his side and it all comes to him easily. But there is a price.
While he’s satisfied with his fortune, he does not like what he has become. Fulfilling his ambition is but one test of his character; being successful is quite another.