This week’s topic is Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them to Me. These are all books I enjoyed, recommended by family and friends.
After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell – her debut novel. The main character, Alice is in a coma after being in road accident, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. She has been grieving the death of her husband, John. It’s quite a complicated story, following the life stories not only of Alice, but also those of her mother, Ann (who I didn’t like much), her grandmother, Elspeth (who I did like very much), her two sisters and John. Her family gathers at her bedside as Alice drifts in and out of consciousness, remembering her childhood, her first romance, and the love of her life — her now-deceased husband, John, a journalist felled by a bomb.
The Long Song by Andrea Levy is one of the best books I’ve read. It’s brutal, savage, and unrelenting in depicting the lives of the slaves in Jamaica in the 19th century, just as slavery was coming to an end and both the slaves and their former owners were adjusting to their freedom. The narrator is July, at the beginning a spirited young woman, born in a sugar-cane field, telling her story at her son’s suggestion.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I have mixed feelings about this book, parts of it are brilliant, fascinating and funny, but parts of it are tedious and boring. It is about Owen Meany, a very small boy with a strange voice who believes his life is directed by God, and his friend Johnny Wheelwright.
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. I really enjoyed this book, for its content, the characters and setting and last but not least Sylvia Townsend Warner’s style of writing After the death of her adored father, Laura ‘Lolly’ Willowes settles into her role of the ‘indispensable’ maiden aunt of the family, wholly dependent, an unpaid nanny and housekeeper. Two decades pass; the children are grown, and Lolly unexpectedly moves to a village, alone. Here, happy and unfettered, she revels in a new existence, nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me, I could see Cannery Row itself, a strip of Monterey’s Ocean View Avenue, where the Monterey sardines were caught and canned or reduced to oil or fishmeal, along with all the characters – no, it was more than that -I was there in the thick of it, transported in my mind, whilst I was reading and even afterwards as I thought about the novel.
Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II by Ben Macintyre. Nonfiction that reads like fiction. It’s about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.
Wildwood: a Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin, a memoir, a travelogue about the interdependence of human beings and trees. I think parts of this book are brilliant and fascinating, but my eyes glazed over in other parts as I got lost in all the facts and details that he recounts, which were just too much at times for me. But sometimes his writing is poetical, full of imagery. He covers a huge area of natural history, not just trees, but also plants, birds, moths, hedges, as well as the uses of wood for living, working and pleasure. He also describes his journeys to numerous places – not just in Britain, but also to the Pyrenees, Bieszczady, Australia, east to Kazakhstan, China, and the walnut forests of Kyrgyzstan.
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor in which he describes his travels on foot in 1933 from the Hook of Holland through Germany, to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, on his way to Constantinople. In a way his journey was a gilded experience as he had introductions to people in different places – people who gave him a bed for the night, or longer stays. There were also people who didn’t know him who welcomed him into their homes as a guest – as the title says it was a time of gifts. It was the period when Hitler came to power in Germany. Parts are vividly described, but there are also passages which are so tedious and hard work to read, so full of dry facts and arcane words.
Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre begins with a graphic description of a particularly nasty murder scene, which is normally guaranteed to make me stop reading. But it would have been a great shame if I’d let it put me off this book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The dead man is Dr Ponsonby, a well- respected doctor working for the Midlothian NHS Trust in Edinburgh. Investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane gets involved as he lives in the flat above Ponsonby and the terrible smell (think blood, poo and sick) coming up from below leads him into the murder scene. It soon becomes apparent to the reader who did the murder and it is the motive behind it that needs to be ferreted out.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, her first novel. I loved it. I saw the film before I read the book – Octavia Spencer won a Golden Globe award as best supporting actress for her performance as Minny – and even though I knew the story I still found the book full of tension and completely absorbing. When I wrote about the film, I said I hoped the book lived up to my expectations. In fact, it did and more. As good as the film is, the book is even better and I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read. It’s set in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962 where the tension caused by the contrast between the black maids and their white employers is so appalling.