This novel was one of a trove I inherited from my parents, a gift for my mother on her 20th birthday. It tells the story of a weaver, formerly a religious nonconformist and now miser, who discovers a meaning in life other than gold when an orphan child appears at his cottage. It reads like a fairytale, albeit a cloyingly sentimental and morally didactic one. Its a bit too heartwarming and, well, Victorian for my tastes, but readable enough if you like that sort of thing.
Fortunately next on my never-ending to read list was this bleak masterpiece, a story of the life of a typical Russian at one of Stalin's gulags. The novel, which won the Nobel Prize for literature, deals with what it is like to survive in the dehumanising and cruel conditions of a camp. It follows the epnomyous central character through just one day, from feeling ill in the mroning, through helpings of gruel, to hard labour via the various blags necessary to survive in truly horrific conditions. The prose is as stark as the desolate camp in which the story is set.