In one sense, this novel is the story of Paul Bailey's elderly protagonist Harry Chapman – former actor, writer, sometime lecturer – and his (only somewhat Homeric) journey out of this life after he finds himself in hospital with acute stomach pains. Those familiar with Bailey's literary game-playing, however – in novels such as the Booker Prize-shortlisted Peter Smart's Confessions and Gabriel's Lament – will recognise the allusiveness in the title. It invokes not only the celebrated Jacobean translation of Homer's epic by George Chapman (already featured in Bailey's Sugar Cane), but also John Keats's poetic panegyric on the elevating effects of great literature, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer".
The classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads
Now you can find out, thanks to the publication of that year's census on the internet