It was wonderful to chat to our guest author, Georgina Moore, about her debut novel, The Garnett Girls. Four women all on a quest to explore what love really means to them and make peace with their past and present – I loved how this novel explored each of their journeys and shifting senses of identity. Huge congratulations to Georgina who became a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestselling author this week. It seems we’re not the only ones fascinated by messy family dynamics.
Now for February’s suggested reads – the ‘if you liked this, then how about’ moment:
Rivalry, bitterness, secrets and lies. In Tessa Hadley’s The Past, three sisters and their brother meet at their grandparents’ old house for three long, hot summer weeks. Roland’s sisters aren’t keen on his new wife, Fran’s children uncover a secret in the woods, Alice’s uninvited guest Kasim makes plans to seduce Roland’s teenage daughter, and eldest Harriet finds her usual self-possession turned upside down unexpectedly. This is a simmering novel which offers so much in the way of family drama and perspective as over the course of their time together, the siblings find that their familiar way of life will fall apart forever.
Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Long View is a brilliant exploration of the shifting sands in a marriage. There’s something about EJH’s writing that gets to the very heart of the matter. Not a joyful read by any means but so very knowing and weighty in its examination of marriage and how relationships are shaped for better and for worse. We see Antonia and Conrad’s marriage through Antonia’s eyes, moving backwards in time from 1950 to 1926 and Antonia’s parents’ marriage is brought into focus as the reader begins to understand the baggage we carry from the past to our present. I can never fail to not be impressed by EJH’s razor sharp portrait of relationships.
Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi is a fantastic interlocking of stories from past and present which take us from Nigeria to the US. Meeting in the middle of a riot, Nonso, Remi, Aisha, and Solape form an unbreakable bond at a Nigerian boarding school. The riots are the catalyst for a chain of unforeseeable events which will impact on them all. Solape’s mother is profoundly changed by the fallout of the school riot years before. Having fallen in love with an African-American, Nonso struggles in a world outside Nigeria when she moves to America. Remi’s future husband, Segun, becomes entangled with the police. Whilst Aisha’s grapples with the guilt of what happened that night, until she sees a chance to save her son’s life and perhaps, redefine her own. Each story is unique and so compelling as the reader follows the lives of a generation of Nigerian women, exploring their identity and experience and learning to live with the past.
I’ll be surprised if you haven’t seen or heard of We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman. It took the book community by storm at the beginning of the year. It’s fresh, funny, deeply touching and truly epic in its story of friendship. Friends for over forty years, Edi and Ash have seen each other through life’s milestones. When Edi is diagnosed with cancer, Ash’s world becomes shaped by the rhythms of Edi’s care, not only preserving memories but squeezing joy from every moment left. This is a powerful novel about learning when to hold on, and when to let go. What I really loved is the fact that it challenged my thinking about what mothering and sisterhood is all about. It also speaks to the heart of caring and loving for someone who is dying – the messiness of death is as compelling as the messiness of life and of course, love. A must for fans of Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss and the brilliant Nora Ephron.
I know we mentioned this one a lot in our February Live but Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour speaks volumes about mother/daughter relationships – it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in its day. In true Keane style, there is the claustrophobic world of a crumbling Anglo-Irish country house lifestyle combined with her signature black comedy which tells of innocence lost and freedoms gained behind the gates of Temple Alice. Starved of love, Aroon St Charles is trapped in a world of repression and strict codes of conduct – whilst she may not know herself, the reader has the all-seeing eye when it comes to her character. The late great Hilary Mantel called Good Behaviour an ‘overlooked classic.’ An honourable mention must go to Molly Keane – A Life by Sally Phipps. Sally Phipps was one of Keane’s daughters and this biography brings her to life, reflecting on the world she inhabited and exploring the intimate and complicated relationships between children and their parents which abound in Molly Keane’s writing.
Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale is both a coming of age and a coming out story. A fictionalised account of the life of poet Charles Causley, Mother’s Boy examines the tender bond between mother and son and a young man seeking to conceal his true self. When Laura, a laundress, is placed in service in Teignmouth in 1914, she meets her young husband and baby Charles, is born. Damaged by the war and haunted by his experiences of the trenches, when Charles’ father returns home, he is already ill with the tuberculosis and soon leaves Laura a widow. In the dawn of a new war, Charles signs up to become a coder in the Navy. Leaving the close-knit and gossipy community of Launceston, Charles discovers a new and more colourful life in which he seems to blossom and will experience the threat of death and the excitement of a love that is as clandestine as his work. This is a story of finding a sense of belonging, of love and war, the versions of ourselves we share with others and exploring the bonds which tether us to parents.
A huge thank you to our sponsors the extraordinary Smith and Munson for sponsoring this month and for growing the most incredible tulips!