Is it just me, or has September been a very, very long month? I think it’s because it encompassed the tail-end of the school holidays, the back-to-school rush, a mini-heatwave complete with lovely day trip to the seaside which made it feel like we were back on holiday, and then this last week alone has lasted at least a month as I’ve been at home with poorly off-school seven year old and teething toddler whilst battling extreme PMT!
I also seem to have managed to read a lot more than usual as well, so my September book list is quite long (even though a couple are missing from the photo because I had to take them back to the library!).
Die Laughing, Gunpowder Plot, Heirs of the Body, The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, Mistletoe and Murder, The Black Ship, Sheer Folly by Carola Dunn
As last month, I have been racing through this detective series set in the 1920s. It was getting a slightly expensive Kindle habit, but luckily our local library has a good selection, so I’ve been able to feed my addiction. I’ve now read almost the entire series, which is probably just as well, because I’m reaching a stage where I’ve come across so many literary bodies in unexpected and theoretically innocent scenarios, that I’m starting to feel slightly surprised that my average day doesn’t encompass a murder or two. It might be time to take a little break from the crime, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my binge while it lasted.
The Girls by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell is one of my absolute favourite authors, but I somehow missed this book when it was out new. I was thrilled to discover it in a charity shop a couple of weeks ago when I was searching out Rainbow Magic fairy books for my daughter (don’t ask; if you’re a seven year old girl these are A Big Thing). Now I’m an author I always feel slightly guilty about buying books in charity shops because the author doesn’t benefit at all. However, on the positive side, the purchase (along with a stack of the fairy books) was a donation to the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, which is a very worthwhile beneficiary.
I gobbled up the book in 24 hours, reminding myself why these days I often choose to re-read old favourites rather than tackle something new. The thing is, I am slightly addicted to reading, and when in the grip of a new book by an author I love, I do tend to let everything else in my life slide. Which includes neglecting my children a bit. Nevermind, at least I read quickly, so they didn’t have long to put up with burnt toast, a lack of home-made cooking and distinctly absent-minded responses to their chatter. And I remembered to pick Anna up from school on time and everything.
The book is set in modern day London, following the lives of the families living in the houses set round a pretty shared garden over the course of one intense and eventful summer. Lisa Jewell’s overwhelming strength is her characterisation. She is able to get inside the heads of alcoholic single mums, disillusioned forty-something dads, bereft teenage girls, neglected teenage boys and many more totally convincingly. Even the most minor characters are beautifully drawn and contribute to the overall verisimilitude of the story. As with all her novels, I would absolutely recommend it.
Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
Jennifer Weiner is another favourite author of mine. She is American, and I always find it interesting to spot the differences and similarities in culture, identity and social mores between Britain and America when reading her books.
Who Do You Love has something of the feel of One Day by David Nicholls about it. Controversially, I’m not a big One Day fan – to get on my feminist high-horse, if it had been written by a woman it would have gone utterly unremarked upon by most critics; dismissed as chick-lit. Because it was a man venturing into the world of love and relationships it was deemed worthy of critical note. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate One Day, and Nicholls is a talented author, but I just think that authors like Lisa Jewell and Jennifer Weiner are writing wonderful novels with stunning emotional depth, vivid characterisation and wittily detailed social observation, but that because they are written by women they get lumped into ‘women’s fiction’ genre rather than being treated as mainstream literature. Which is a pity. Rant over.
Who Do You Love follows the lives of a bi-racial boy from a poor area of Philadelphia and an upper-middle class Jewish girl from Florida over the course of three decades. The book is their love story, but it is also the story of how who and what and how we choose to love is the biggest influence on all of our lives. A brilliant read, unfortunately leading to a little more benign child neglect. Although apparently the biggest factor in whether a child grows up to love books and reading is how often they see their parents enjoying books, so perhaps I have actually been a model parent after all this month.