I don’t read enough. I’m aware that’s a ridiculous thing for a writer to say. But I can’t read in the day, and at night I’ve become one of those people who frequently drifts off drooling having read the same paragraph three times.
There’s another reason: unless the book I’m working on is going really well, and has a distinct voice, I can find that I’m adopting the book’s tone (I once found the heroine of a Frinton-based period romance sounding weirdly like Mma Ramotswe). Or, in the case of a really good book, you can become so completely disheartened by your own W.I.P that you decide it no longer deserves to be I.P and rip it all up.
So holiday reading is an actual luxury. I try to ensure it’s not work-related, and so this year I sought recommendations from friends online. As a quality control mechanism it has proven to be pretty effective.
So I thought I’d share a few of the books that I really enjoyed.
Out this month, this debut by Liza Klaussman begins as an evocative tale of relationships in post-war America and then veers off to become something darker altogether. Its structure is audacious – multiple narrators, often picking up the story decades apart. It is brutal, compelling, full of beautiful imagery, and conducts a lovely, leisurely dissection of the marriage at its heart, that of the glamorous Nick and Hughes, that leaves no easy answers.
Walking With Sausage Dogs by Matt Whyman. Full disclosure: I know Matt and his family, thinly disguised here in this Gerald Durrell-esque story of how pets can have a transformative effect on their households (and not always in a good way). There is a central episode – a bizarre accident with huge consequences – which I was privy to, and which Matt writes about with humour and candour. If your pets have become the miniature dictators of your family – or if you just love sausage dogs – you’ll love this.
One thing I hadn’t expected was that I would read so many books about women wrestling with the approach of middle age. Three of these were very good. One really wasn’t. I’m not going to write about that one.
I didn’t grow up with sisters. In fact, I was 19 before I acquired my first. So I found The Weird Sisters’ quirky portrayal of a family of women who love each other while not actually liking each other very much completely fascinating. Shot through with Shakespeare, and beautifully written, this is a sort of coming of age story for women whose lives didn’t quite turn out as they had planned.
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon follows the life of Alice Buckle, a woman whose marriage is in steady decline and who, on a whim, agrees to take part in an anonymised internet survey about marriage. The relationship she builds with her anonymous researcher provides much of the tension within the book. It’s funny, compelling, and if I felt a tiny bit let down by the ending it certainly wouldn’t put me off recommending it.
A woman on the edge also features in the very funny Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple in which a daughter tries to unpick the disappearance of her unravelling middle aged mother, once a prodigiously talented and celebrated architect. The book is mostly told through correspondence, and Bernadette’s quirky, unrepentant and ballsy character totally won me over, not least in her battle with a Simon Cowell-alike, which ends in a heartbreaking act of destruction. I even liked it enough to forgive the author name-checking Mia Farrow in the acknowledgments…
And finally, I read what may well be my book of the Year: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. To say this is a psychological thriller doesn’t do justice to its multilayered twists and turns. It is rare that I read a book where I cannot tell to the last page where it is headed, but this is that book. It is fascinating on modern relationships and has a plot twist in the middle that actually made me make a noise like someone had kicked me in the stomach.
My husband (who monopolised my kindle for three days to read it, leaving me with only the Really Bad Middle Aged Lady Fiction) loved it just as much. I have been astonished by the mixed reviews it has received online – I thought it properly brilliant.
Read it, and let me know what you think.