What a joy to see a bit of sunshine as we get tantalisingly close to the part of the year where reading is an outside activity.
With the honourable exception of the excellent Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave which is set during the Second World War, all of this month’s choices are contemporary and paint a picture of life as we are living it now. All That Man Is by David Szalay gives us portraits of nine different men across Europe and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell is a tender and desolate rendering of a relationship that starts in a toilet in Bulgaria.
London is the setting for Yvette Edward’s heartbreaking page turner The Mother and for Not Working, a funny book laced with melancholy. Five Rivers Met on a Wooden Plain by Barney Norris shows us the aftermath of a car crash in Salisbury. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield is a reworking of Pride and Prejudice and Reader, I Married Him uses that famous line from Jane Eyre to inspire short stories from 21 authors.
Finally, I was very taken with two superb memoirs this month. All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead and We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington are fine examples of life writing and I finished both of them feeling wiser, sadder, yet somehow enriched.
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris
‘It’s about extremes, is selling flowers.’
Like all florists, Rita has a lot to do with funeral goers, brides and adulterers, and is one of the five ordinary people whose life is impacted by a serious car crash that shatters the peace on a quiet night in Salisbury.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
‘You were ordered to teach that class grammar, not to adopt any survivors.’
From a London school to the Siege of Malta, Mary, Tom and Alistair make their different contributions to the war effort in this enthralling tale of love, loss and betrayals set during the Second World War.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
This stunning story of the ramifications of desire and shame opens in the bathrooms of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia when an American teacher pays a young man called Mitko for sex.
A most modern look at that saddest of truths that unrequited love is not less painful because we know the object of our love is unworthy.
Not Working by Lisa Owens
When Claire Flannery is so bored at work that she considers eating the bluetack on her desk, she decides to quit her job in Creative Communications and spend some time working out what she wants to do with her life.
The problem is that maybe work wasn’t the whole problem…
The Mother by Yvette Edwards
Marcia’s son Ryan was stabbed to death for no apparent reason and now she goes to court every day to see if the young man accused of his murder will be convicted.
Ryan had never been in trouble so why was he carrying a knife? A skillfully plotted and heart-wrenching courtroom drama.
Reader, I Married Him by Tracy Chevalier
A vibrant and varied collection of stories inspired by the line from Jane Eyre. The book offers up accounts from the perspective of Mr Rochester and Grace Poole as well lots of contemporary tales.
The stellar list of 21 authors includes Susan Hill, Audrey Niffenegger, Elif Shafak and Lionel Shriver.
We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddingon
A love affair with all things French takes the author from Yorkshire to London to Paris to Brussels as she tries to work out how to live, love and be a parent in the best way she can.
I finished this delightfully engaging book feeling like I’d made a refreshingly honest friend.
All That Man Is by David Szalay
The men in these linked stories are of all ages, are all in transit and are all trying to work something out, even if they themselves don’t know what it is.
Bleak, funny and infused with longing, Szalay offers a possible answer to the question of what being a man means at this moment in our history.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
‘Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.’
This homage to Pride and Prejudice is great fun for fans of the original – what’s not to love about Lizzy and Darcy having hate sex? – but would also work well for the uninitiated. Joyous.
All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead
The author’s partner Tony, a drug dealer with a big past and a huge heart, used to joke to her that an internet dating site would never have matched them up.
This is the sad but beautiful story of their unlikely love affair, the family they created and how everything changed when Tony died after saving their son from drowning.