Right now, every time I have a spare minute I’m snatching up my copy of Serena Mackesy’s wonderful ghost story ‘Hold My Hand’. It’s the story of a desperate single mother from London who takes a housekeeping job in Cornwall to give her young daughter a chance at a better life. But there’s a good reason why no-one has stayed in the job for long... This is such a spooky book. It had me checking behind the curtains. Serena Mackesy is the female Stephen King. She deserves to be much more widely read.
As a young girl in the early-eighties, I devoured anything by Judy Blume. At the time, there was little to bridge the gap between children’s books and adult fiction. I wasn’t interested in the overblown fantasy of C.S.Lewis. Enid Blyton didn’t speak to me at all. I wanted to read books that mirrored my own prepubescent feelings and Judy Blume captured the thoughts of young teenage girls so well. ‘Deenie’was my favourite. It’s about a girl who has to wear a back-brace to correct a curve to her spine. I was just about to get train track braces on my teeth. Not quite so serious but it helped me to read about Deenie’s fears as I faced eighteen months of being teased.
‘Cooking With Fernet Branca’ by James Hamilton-Patersonsounds like a cookery book but is in fact a hilarious comic novel about the comings and goings of a bunch of assorted eccentric expats in Tuscany, punctuated by a series of increasingly inedible recipes (the book’s hero fancies himself as a horribly creative chef). I first came across this book while on a train journey. The man opposite me was crying with laughter. Tears were running down his face. He was reading this book. Absolutely intrigued, I ordered it on-line and was hooked. I also bought a bottle of Fernet Branca. Alas, that wasn’t so great…
When I was in my early twenties, a dear friend told me I reminded him of Emma Bovary, the eponymous heroine of Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’. I was flattered. Until I read the book… It was chastening experience indeed. I realized that my friend was not complimenting me but sending me a little warning. A hopeless romantic, Emma Bovary is flighty and ruins her life in pursuit of glamour and forbidden love. These days, whenever I find myself feeling dissatisfied with my life, I remember what happened to Emma and resolve to count my blessings instead.
‘The Accidental Tourist’ by Anne Tyler is my favourite book. Newly divorced and scarred by grief after the murder of his twelve year old son, travel guide writer Macon Leary moves back home to live with his divorced brothers and sister Rose. The book follows Macon’s progress as he is brought out of his lonely self-absorption through meeting brash single mother Muriel and her young son Alexander. This isn’t a book full of grand settings and high drama, but Tyler is the very best writer I know when it comes to capturing the truth about human relationships. Every character is exquisitely well-developed, right down to Macon’s little dog! I especially recommend this book to anyone who is going through a break-up or bereavement. It is full of understanding and hope.