1. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes
I think I’m a little bit more interested in all things World War One than your average 22 year old girl, but having just finished my dissertation on the Great War I’ve been drawn to lots of novels on the subject. Birdsong has been on my to-read list for years, so when I was at home a couple of months ago and noticed it on my mum’s bookshelf I decided now was as good a time as any to read it. The story is split into three sections; first, a young Stephen Wraysford arrives in Amiens in 1910 to work and ends up getting involved in an affair with his boss’s wife; then the narrative moves to the war itself and tells of Stephen’s experiences in the trenches; the final section focuses on Stephen’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, in 1970s London who is trying to find out more about her grandfather. My favourite parts of the book were definitely the chapters set during the war itself. They were poignant, haunting and heartbreaking; the writing was almost poetic in parts and beautifully described the horrors of war without romanticising the conflict. I didn’t enjoy the 1970s chapters as much, I think that was mostly due to the fact that I found Elizabeth a bit boring and ignorant. I felt these chapters could have easily been cut out of the novel without really detracting from the story, but the chapters set in the trenches more than made up for them. It’s quite a long book at 500-ish pages, but it didn’t feel like it was dragging at all and managed to hold my interest all the way through. It’s beautifully written and even if you’re not particularly interested in the history of World War One, it’s a brilliant novel about love and loss.
2. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I first started reading this book almost exactly a year ago, and have only just finished it. I think I would have probably enjoyed it a lot more if I had read it all in one go, but for various reasons I read it in fits and starts and haven’t felt particularly inspired by it. This slow reading is definitely partially my fault, but it’s probably also down to the fact that the book hasn’t really caught my attention and I haven’t felt the need to keep on reading. It’s set in 1930s New York and follows Katey Kontent, a young secretary who gets drawn into the glamorous social scene of the city. I think my main problem with this novel was the lack of real plot; Katey just seemed to be meandering about and meeting lots of people (with ridiculous names – Dicky Vanderwhile? Wally Walcott? Bitsy Haughton?), but not actually doing anything. It’s not a bad novel by any means, and I really liked Towles’s style of writing, but it just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. I really liked the first few chapters which focused on Katey and best friend Eve’s somewhat complicated relationship with the mysterious Tinker Grey, but they kind of became minor characters towards the middle of the book and I would have preferred if the story had focused more on this aspect of the plot. I think I’ll hang on to this book and try re-reading it in a couple of years, because I really really wanted to love it and it has mostly great reviews but for some reason I just couldn’t get in to it.
3. The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock
I got this for the bargain price of 99p thanks to Blair’s recommendations of Kindle summer sale picks. Set in Guernsey, the narrative is split between Cat, a teenager in the mid-1980s, and her uncle Charlie, whose recollections of the wartime Nazi occupation of the island are transcribed by Cat’s father. The two narratives often overlap and mirror each other, reinforcing the sense that both the family and the small island community as a whole are hiding dark secrets. Within the first few pages of the novel, Cat admits to killing her so-called best friend Nicolette, and the rest of the book goes through the back story leading up to this event, interspersed with shameful family history from World War Two and musings on the somewhat backwards and eccentric residents of Guernsey. I particularly enjoyed the chapters written by Cat, they were genuinely funny and portrayed her as a teenager who was equal parts precocious, angsty and deranged. The novel had a fairly abrupt ending that I didn’t really expect, but I think it worked well and, like with the rest of the story, it left you wondering what was real and what was a lie.
What have you been reading lately?