We had our usual summer holiday free choice of books in August and an interesting and diverse number to discuss ranging from 18th century to July 2022 and encompassing Africa, Venice and indeed the entire planet.
A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland Samuel Johnson (1775), a weighty account of his eighty day journey through the Highlands and Islands, full of witty insights and powerful moral judgements. He is more interested in the social conditions with Enclosures just beginning but shows an 18th century lack of interest in the scenery.
Donna Leon’s novels set in Venice featuring the likeable Commissario Brunetti. If you haven’t read these novels you are in for a treat with well-rounded interesting characters, good plots and of course descriptions of wonderful food against the Venetian backdrop. If you want to read them in order start with Death at La Fenice (1992) but the novels get better as the characters develop.
Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant’s Guide by Bill McGuire (2022) a sobering read which paints a stark picture of what the planet will be like in 20, 50, 100 years unless we take urgent action now.
The Four Winds Kristin Hannah (2022) set in Texas 1934 the era of the Dustbowl: the story of a Mother’s migration to California with her family and the conflicts and challenges they face – the strength and resilience between the women and the bond between the mother and daughter. Waterstone’s claim that it is a book for fans of Where the Crawdads Sing.
The Shadow King by Mazza Mengiste (2019) shortlisted for the Booker Prize. A novel about the Ethiopian fightback against Mussolini’s Italian army in which Mengiste’s own great-grandmother had taken a gun and gone to war herself. It was a vivid account of the war and was both brutal and uplifting described as an ‘unforgettable account of what it means to be a woman at war.’
The Plot Against America Philip Roth (2004) an alternative history in which Roosevelt is defeated in the Presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindberg. Roth uses his own family and himself as the young Philip as narrator to trace the growth of anti-semitism and terror under Lindbergh who in real life was a spokesman for the ‘America First’ Committee. It was a good read and very relevant for the recent political situation in America.
Elizabeth is Missing Emma Healey (2014) a tender portrayal of an 82 year-old woman but also a detective story. It gives a moving account of the frustrations and the family relationship but lifted by touches of black humour. If you’ve seen the film now read the book!
Shuggie Bain Douglas Stuart (2020) winner of the Booker Prize as well as other awards. This is a story about poverty, addiction and abuse. It shows a deep understanding of the relationship between a child and a substance-abusing parent but its stark realism makes for grim reading.
The Locked Room Elly Griffiths (2022), Read as light relief after the previous book. Thoroughly enjoyable crime novel with an endearing main character, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. There’s humour and warmth and a vivid background of the Norfolk Fens and the City of Norwich.
Our next book is Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak.