I don’t know how I’ve found the time, but I’ve somehow managed to read lots of books so far this year. I thought I’d share some brief thoughts on each of them in case you happened to be in the market for a good book to read.
Murder of a Lady – Anthony Wynne (1931)
A good old-fashioned ‘whodunnit’ detective yarn, Murder of a Lady is set in a castle in the Scottish Highlands and subtitled ‘A Scottish Mystery’. I confess I bought it because I liked the illustration on the cover, but I enjoyed reading it too!
A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr (1980)
I think A Month in the Country is my favourite book of 2017 so far. A gentle, beautifully written story of a man who, returning with emotional scars from the First World War, spends a month uncovering a Medieval painting in a village church. It’s a lovely glimpse into a bygone era of village life and the healing powers of the English countryside.
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (1954)
Lucky Jim had me laughing out loud many times thanks to lines such as: “For a moment he felt like devoting the next ten years to working his way to a position as art critic on purpose to review Bertrand’s work unfavourably.” It’s a comic portrayal of academic life in the 1950s and full of funny characters and situations. (Kingsley Amis went to the same Oxford college as me, so I thought it was about time I read one of his books!)
The Aviator’s Wife – Melanie Benjamin (2013)
I picked up The Aviator’s Wife at JFK airport on the way home from New York. It appealed to me for obvious reasons. It’s all about Charles Lindbergh – the famous pilot who, in 1927, was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic – told from the point of view of his wife, who was also a pilot (people forget that, surprise surprise). Not particularly well written, but I did learn stuff I didn’t know about Lindbergh’s life.
A Notable Woman – The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt (published 2015)
Not a novel but the published diary of a real woman who never married but was a romantic type like me. Jean’s diaries start aged 15 in 1925 and continue until her death in 1986, charting her experiences of the Second World War, various romantic encounters/disappointments, her obsession with her cats, setting up her own bookshop and lots more. As a prolific diary-writer myself, it’s always interesting to read those of other people, and this one particularly so because there were so many parallels with my own life (particularly with the days when I was single and lived in my own little cottage just like Jean). It’s quite a tome of a book but I got through it in no time, and was quite sad when I got to the end.
Dead End Close – Dominic Utton (2017)
Set in Oxford, Dead End Close is quite a dark novel with several cleverly interwoven plot lines involving characters based around the Seven Deadly Sins. This had me gripped by its honest portrayal of Oxford, its moral complexities and of course its plot. Only available on Kindle (or Kindle for iPhone, which is what I used).
Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford (1949)
Wonderful comfort reading, Love in a Cold Climate is a nice easy read and full of witty aristocratic characters, especially the brilliantly written Radlett family, whom I believe are based on Mitford’s own family. Another one that I didn’t want to end, and I was thrilled to learn, having finished it, that there are other novels with the same characters. I’ll be working my way through all of them in due course, just so that I can ensconce myself in the delightful world of the Radletts once again.
The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley (1953)
I had always known the immortal first line of The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” But I must admit that until I read it, I had no idea what the book was about. It’s a sensitively explored account of a young boy’s loss of innocence as he spends a hot summer in a country house ferrying letters between two illicit lovers. Quite haunting.
On Being Nice – The School of Life (2017)
On Being Nice is one of a series of delightful and illuminating little volumes that I discovered via Twitter – specifically via the philosopher Alain de Botton, whose writing has been a great favourite of mine for at least a decade. This particular one is, as the title suggests, all about being ‘nice’ – what makes someone nice, why we often dismiss ‘nice’ as ‘dull’, and of course, how to be more nice oneself. There are lots more, which I’ll read in due course. Incidentally, The Book of Life website has tonnes of fantastic articles that I often dip into, covering everything from relationships to confidence to work. It could broadly be classed as ‘self-help’, though in a much more high-brow sense than this term implies – without being esoteric as is the tendency of a lot of philosophy. As with all Alain de Botton’s work (I think he has helpers for this project also), it’s beautifully written and thoroughly accessible without being in any way ‘dumbed down’. It’s all extremely good for the soul and has helped me through quite a few rough patches. To give you a flavour, this lovely article In Praise of Melancholy was one that particularly resonated with me.