Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

Back to the 80s: 1983


On the 12th September, Hannah’s Bookshelf was all about the 80s! I decided to take a trip back in time and look at a selection of the best-selling fiction of 1983. If you missed the show, you can listen again on the player at the end of this post. As promised, here are the details of the books I featured on the show…

The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon

fay weldon she devil

Weldon’s novel is known as a tale of romance, though the author herself claimed its main theme is envy. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil tells the story of Ruth, an unattractive housewife, and her husband Bobbo. After discovering Bobbo’s affair with glamorous romance novelist Mary Fisher, Ruth begins a campaign of destruction and reinvention. The book has been adapted twice: a 1986 BBC mini-series starred Julie T. Wallace, Patricia Hodge and Dennis Waterman, and the (somewhat looser) 1989 film She-Devil starred Roseanne Barr, Meryl Streep and Ed Begley Jr.

Life & Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee


Winner of the 1983 Booker Prize, Coetzee’s novel tells the story of Michael K, a gardener who attempts to travel through Apartheid-era South Africa from Cape Town to his mother’s rural birth place. Michael’s journey is a frustrated one, which sees him being found by soldiers, taken to a rehabilitation camp and studied by a doctor. Many critics have noted parallels between Coetzee’s novel and The Trial by Franz Kafka (and not just in the similarity of the protagonists’ names). J.M. Coetzee went on to win the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

the witches

I have a lot of happy (and terrified) memories of reading The Witches as a child. Dahl’s tale of a young boy caught up in the sinister and secretive world of European witches has delighted kids for over 30 years. And Quentin Blake‘s iconic illustrations are a big part of its magic (even if one of them had me quivering under my bedcover when I saw it for the first time).

Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins


Jackie Collins’ iconic novel Hollywood Wives was on the bestseller list for most of 1983. The book, Collins’ most successful novel, tells the intertwined stories of a number of women living and working in Hollywood. A number of indirect sequels followed: Hollywood Husbands (1986), Hollywood Kids (1994), Hollywood Wives: The New Generation (2001) and Hollywood Divorces (2003), and the 1983 novel was adapted into a mini-series starring Candice Bergen, Angie Dickinson and Anthony Hopkins.

Sadly, Jackie Collins passed away on 19 September 2015. During her life, she published 32 novels, all of which made the NYT bestseller list, and sold over 500 million copies of her books.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose

Although Eco’s debut novel, Il nome della rosa, was published in 1980, William Weaver’s English translation first hit the shelves in 1983 (so I think I’m allowed to include it in this list). Set in 1327, the novel is set in a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy. In part an intellectual murder mystery – investigated by William of Baskerville and the novice Adso of Melk – and part an idiosyncratic creative essay on medieval theology, semiotics, philosophy and literature, The Name of the Rose is a rich and dense novel that entertains on a number of levels. The labyrinthine library at the heart of the novel’s mystery is an apt metaphor for the cerebral pleasures the book offers.

Eco’s novel was one of Nancy Schumann’s Apocalypse Books selections, and so is shelved in The Library at the End of Days.

Some other notable books:

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
I discussed this wonderful Gothic novel on the show a few weeks ago. One of my favourites and definitely worth a read.

1985 by György Dalos
Hungarian author Dalos’ sequel to George Orwell’s 1984 was first published in 1983 (confusingly).

Stephen King – a writer who is frequently mentioned on the show – published Christine and Pet Semetary in 1983.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The first book in Pratchett’s Discworld series was first published in 1983.

Barbara Cartland published 12 historical romances in 1983, including A Duke in Danger, Gypsy Magic, Diona and Dalmatian and Lights, Laughter and a Lady.

William Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Alice Walker won a Pulitzer Prize for The Colour Purple.

But I ended the show by talking about the best-selling English language book of the year, which was…

Return of the Jedi by James Kahn


Based on the screenplay by George Lucas, Kahn’s official novelization was published in May 1983. Though there were some minor differences between the novel and the film, Kahn’s book was a successful and popular tie-in. Personally, I’m most interested in the way the Ewoks are presented – but I know that puts me in a minority. Sigh.

To hear more about all of these books, you can listen to the show here:

Hannah’s Bookshelf – 12/09/2015 by Hannah’s Bookshelf on Mixcloud


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