There comes a time in life, usually around puberty, when you wake up to the fact that your parents are not the infallible heroes you thought they were. Moreover, as Giovanna in The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante discovers, they lie. White little lies to cheer you up and, sometimes, dark, destructive lies that can ruin marriages and lives. Ferrante’s latest book, like her best-selling Neapolitan quartet, is also set in Naples, but this time in a middle-class academic home. The deceptions, passions and betrayals are the same, however, as is Ferrante’s extraordinary ability to inhabit the mind of someone else. My favourite Ferrante book remains The Days of Abandonment, but die-hard Ferrante fans will still want to read this book which has just come out as a film on Netflix.
... something 'light'
An amusing journey into the world of Greek gods and semi-gods has been the highlight of my holiday reading this Christmas. Stone Blind by Natalie Hayes is frivolous fun and a welcome distraction from family gatherings and dishwasher emptying. Hayes, a respected classicist whose mission it is to make Greek myths accessible and entertaining, takes a closer look at the infamous snake-headed Medusa and her lethal stare. Was she really as bad as her reputation? Why did her stare turn people into stone? And how did she end up with snakes as hair anyway?
It’s 1922. We are in Moscow’s most distinguished hotel and one of its permanent guests, the unrepentant aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, has just been sentenced to a life in exile inside the hotel ‘never to set foot outside of The Metropol again.’ So starts A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel that it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with, a true, yes I will say it, feel good story. It’s not going to change your life, but Amor Towels’ book (also author of Rules of Civility) will entertain and delight with wonderfully crafted characters and enviably elegant writing.
Set in 1985 in an Irish seaside town, Booker Prize long-listed Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan feels like it might as well have been set in 1885. We meet protagonist Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, as he delivers goods to his freezing clients in the run up to Christmas. Poor but happily married with five bright daughters, Furlong takes nothing for granted. Bill was born outside wedlock and owes his relatively harmonious upbringing to the kindness and acceptance of his mother’s employer. Up at the abbey, not everyone has had the same luck.
All’s not well in the Ghorami family, although not even its own members are fully aware of that. Yasmin, daughter of Bengali immigrants is a trainee doctor to the immense pride of her self-made GP father. Her mother, Anisah, is the perfect Indian housewife, endlessly cooking fragrant dish upon fragrant dish. Arif, Yasmin’s younger brother, is the only one showing the cracks as he struggles to find out what to do with his life. When Yasmin starts planning her upcoming marriage to fellow junior doctor Joe, darker secrets emerge. Love Marriage by Monica Ali is her first book in 15 years. Will this one be a match for her 2003 mega best-seller Brick Lane?
With the most English sounding of titles, Egyptian 1964 classic Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali portrays Ram, a penniless and charming Egyptian Copt who lives well off his wealthy aunts, his own father having lost a fortune on the ‘bourse’. Seduced by the sophistication of Europe, Ram and his friend Font travel to London to immerse themselves in the political and cultural ideas of the time. Meanwhile, Egypt is going through its own political upheaval with the end of British imperialism, Nasser’s revolution and a burgeoning Communist movement. Which side, if any, will Ram come down on?
I shed a tear as I finished The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, an Italian writer whose books keep winning prestigious Italian book prizes. Veronesi’s writing was new to me and that, it seems, has been a mistake. The life story of ophthalmologist Marco Carrera had warmth, humanity, universal truths and provided the perfect holiday read.
With summer right around the corner and the recent reopening of swimming pools, I thought that it was a fitting time to reread a favourite book of mine, The Swimming Pool Season by Rose Tremain. The novel focusses on British expats Larry and Miriam Kendal, who have made the quaint and quiet French hamlet of Pomerac their new home. Their move to sunnier climes from Oxford follows the collapse of Larry’s swimming pool empire, Aquazure, but their adjustment to life abroad has been bumpier than anticipated. When Miriam is urgently called to attend to her ailing mother, Leni, back in England, we discover the intricate details of their lives, where unrequited desires, frustration and “what if” questions run amok.
Remember being thirteen? Or rather not? We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida will take you back to your teens the way Sally Rooney took you back to your first love in Normal People. The insecurities, dramas, hopes, lies, friendships, crushes, embarrassments; Vida reminds us what a roller-coaster of emotions puberty is through the story of headstrong Eulabee and her best friend, the bewitchingly beautiful and charismatic Maria Fabiola. Addictive reading.
I cuddled up with a true feel-good book last weekend which took me far, far away to a small, imaginary town in 1970s Ontario. A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson is a novel about family, trust and personal dramas, big and small. Nothing earth-shattering here just a well-written, warm, everyday story which I really enjoyed.