Book Recommendations

The Bookshelf , 30 June 2015

Five Recent Great Reads

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The final chapter of a good book presents a dilemma: to continue to read at breakneck speed through the denouement, or to slow right down in the hope of prolonging the joy of reading something so very absorbing? It helps, of course, if you’ve got your next great read lined up, so here are some I’ve recently loved in case you’ve hit that crucial point (or, of course, if you’re just looking for a summer read…):

The Awakening by Kate Chopin / I first read this in uni, where it was a set text. As is always the case with curricular reading, I combed it for passages that’d help me during the process of essay writing and entirely missed the point of the book. I’m glad I revisited it several years on as a woman. Written in 1899, the story follows a wife and mother in Southern America who is suffering from inexplicable malaise, made all the worse by those around her telling her how lucky she ought feel to have a charming, doting husband and healthy children. As the book progresses she becomes increasingly aware of her dissatisfaction and starts to address it. I won’t tell you more, suffice to say it’s unsurprising that this book has had critics and feminists talking since it was published.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan / Ever been to Venice and become lost in the maze of streets? Last time I was there I walked around the same block at least four times trying to find a way out of the maddening loop. This book came to mind, so I pulled it out once again when back in London. Set in an unnamed city (clearly Venice), it follows a holidaying couple who are subject to the attentions of a local man. Once acquainted, the book takes a series of odd turns (though, as I was reading, what struck me as being the oddest of all was how very normal the ensuing drama seemed – very McEwan and exceptionally well told). While never declared, the setting of Venice is integral to the happenings.

The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes / There are books you read for their subject and plot, and then there are those you read because every page seems to reflect truly on human nature and contain perfect sentences that just make you want to scribble them down (just me? Writer’s hazard. The first bit applies to all). This is the latter kind of book, where plot is dwarfed by the extraordinary feat of placing words exactly where they need to be to paint a picture of the agony and ecstasy of human existence. If you want a big plot, steer clear, but I can’t imagine a human who wouldn’t be moved by the writing.

La Femme De Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe / Been in love to the point of distraction? Then you’ll really feel for Elise, who is titularly only known by the entirety of her belonging to her husband Gilles –  she really exists only for him. When he casually slips into an affair, the action of the book kicks in. How Bourdouxhe managed so exactly to capture the totality of obsessive love is beyond me, but I’m very glad she did – this is about as close to a description of love sickness as I’ve ever read and the revived interest in her writing is wholly deserved.

Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire / On the whole my suggestions haven’t been the most uplifting, have they? Sorry about that – I’ve been through a particularly happy period in life which always pushes me to read books that are slightly less so, but this one’s jolly as they come. Jolly is probably the perfect word to marry up with the Mitfords, actually – immersing yourself in the world of the six famous aristocratic sisters from the perspective of the youngest, Debo, is a sort of jolly hockey sticks affair, in the most delicious of senses.

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