I am writing this paragraph after completing the rest of the post. I never intended listing so many books; I’d had in mind perhaps a dozen favourites but I just kept on thinking of more. There are, I am certain, many, many others if I could only remember them all.
I shall be going away a couple of times during October and have begun to think about my reading matter – always an essential part of holiday planning. Since one of those trips involves flying to Ireland with hand luggage only, I shall be making use of the Kindle app on my iPad. You can read about my reluctant conversion to e-books in this earlier post: Real books
I have to confess to not being a great fan of many of the books considered to be classics. For me, the style is often too flowery and I find much of the description unbearably protracted. I thought I’d share a some of the novels that I have enjoyed with you:
My absolute favourite book for years now has been William Boyd’s Any Human heart. Having read it several times, I once recommended this to my book group; it was universally disliked and I just can’t understand why!
It is probably the most involved novel I’ve ever read and by this I mean that it covers such wide-ranging subjects. The book documents protagonist Logan Mountstuart’s (what a glorious name that is) student years, his literary career, the complexity of his relationships, and his friends and acquaintances – Virginia Woolf, Picasso, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. Set amid an ever-changing historical backdrop – the abdication of Edward VIII, World War II (when Logan is recruited as a spy by Ian Fleming), The Spanish Civil War and later his unwitting involvement with the West German far left militant group, Baader-Meinhof. It sounds rather like a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ and yet somehow the story seems perfectly plausible. I imagine that a liking for the book might depend on one’s liking for Logan. I did like him, immensely though the character is somewhat self-centred at times, particularly as a young man. There is a marvellous Channel 4 film which, rarely, is as good as the book. Three actors portray Logan at his various ages and the marvellous Jim Broadbent (above) as the old man gives an outstanding and poignant performance.
Another book which had a great impact is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Read only once, I doubt I ever shall again. I found it harrowing but ‘unputdownable’. It follows the story of two tailors living in India. It left me sad and appalled at the squalor in their lives.
Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden), read when newly published and again more recently, tells the story of a young girl in the 1920s who is indentured to the madame of a geisha training house. Her treatment by the jealous Hatsumomo makes for a miserable life. Eventually she becomes a geisha herself but her idea of what makes for a happy life is very much at odds with western values. It’s one of those books that stays with you for a long time after reading it.
Set during the winter following the Spanish Civil War, CJ Sansome’s Winter in Madrid focuses on Harry Brett, a spy. Commended for the accuracy of his research, author Sansome pulls no punches and his account of the living conditions in Madrid at the time and the book contains many examples of real events. If my own book is ever published I would be more than satisfied to be praised for the quality of meticulous research.
Margaret Leroy’s The Collaborator (more recently marketed under the title The Soldier’s Wife) is a love story set in occupied Guernsey during WWII. This author is, I believe, very underrated since her name never seems to appear in any list of ‘good books’ or recommendations and yet she has written several cracking good reads. I haven’t yet read A Brief Affair but have it on my ipad ready for holiday reading.
I’m not generally a fan of humorous books but have lately read several with somewhat eccentric protagonists who did make me smile. I absolutely loved The Rosie Project and its sequel, The Rosie Effect. Author Graeme Simison perfectly portrays the social difficulties encountered by an Asperger’s sufferer. If you read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, then these are for you. Other similarly quirky books include The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This kind of book seems to be forming a new genre of novel.
JK Rowling made her name with the Harry Potter books which I confess never to have read though I know many adults who have (including my daughter who, despite being an out and out academic, loves them). However, I did read The Casual Vacancy, her firts book written for adults. I though it superb with excellent characterisation, though the TV adaptation was not that well received. It was indeed a pale imitation of the book. Her latest offerings (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) feature Cormoran Strike, war veteran turned private eye. I’ve not read the books but am enjoying the current TV series.
Pretty much anything written by Louise Candlish (her latest, The Swimming Pool, was excellent), Monica McInerney, Anita Shreeve, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Diane Chamberlain, Katherine McMahon, Lisa Jewell, Kate Morton and Maggie O’Farrell (often family sagas) always please too. I found a voucher in yesterday’s Daily Mail for a recent Lisa Jewell book The Girls for just £1 at WH Smith. Husband went to town and got it for me and it’s been put by ready for the non-flight holiday.
When I’ve really enjoyed a book I find that I miss the characters once it’s finished so I like writers who continue a running theme which underpins each of their stories. Three authors spring to mind, coincidentally all detective based:
Peter James – Roy Grace police series with the running theme of his missing wife. There are around a dozen books so far, beginning with Dead Simple. I’m less keen on James’s other books which focus on the paranormal, not a genre that I enjoy.
Sophie Hannah – Culver Valley series (ten books to date) where the complex relationship between two detectives is the ongoing, underlying story.
The off-beat Jackson Brodie private eye series were great. There are four books and I recommend Case Histories as an introduction. Brodie’s slightly chaotic life with intermittent visits from his delightful daughter are quirky and engaging. A short TV series was made with Jason Isaacs cast in the lead role…very successfully, I thought. Kate Atkinson tells a great tale but of late she has written quite differently (such as Life after Life which won the Costa Novel Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize) but I thoroughly dislike this change of style and hope that she will bring back Brodie soon.
Back in the eighties and nineties I was a fan of Anita Burgh and can still remember the opening line in Love, the Bright Foreigner …. ‘Stored deep within her, petrified for all time’ …..I have no recall at all what the story was about but clearly the words made an impact. It’s one I’d like to revisit. Our tastes change and I wonder if I would still enjoy it.
My first ever ‘grown up’ read was Kathleen Winsor’s novel written in 1940s, Forever Amber. What I’d think of it now, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll read it again soon and find out. It was out of print for some years but later reprinted with a foreword by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This alone makes me think that I wouldn’t feel the same about it any more. Her books are certainly popular but having read a couple (due to the urging of friends who are fans) I can say with absolute conviction that I found them to be unremittingly boring. Apologies if that offends!
A few other odds and ends: Rose Tremain The Road Home, Lori Lansens Rush Home Road, Nick Hornby High Fidelity, Liane Moriaty The Husband’s Secret… there are so, so many and I’m sure that as soon as I post this I will think of other books that I wish I’d included.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
POSTSCRIPT: I knew it would happen! How could I have forgotten ……. three more excellent reads