One way and other, this year has been a bit intense so far. It was only a couple of weeks ago that for the first time in ages I found myself feeling relaxed and with some headspace to spare. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that since then I’ve gone into a reading frenzy that I plan to continue on our upcoming family trip to France. The first week we’re driving across the Pyrenees from west to east, a route my husband has previously cycled, staying in little hotels and doing lots of outdoorsy stuff. The middle week we’re renting a house on a hill just 4km from the Spanish border with gorgeous views of the Med, and finally, when my other half is cycling the Paris-Brest-Paris (1400km in 90 hours) and grabbing naps in bus shelters and school gyms, the kids and I will be enjoying Paris from the comfort of a nice flat in the Marais. Pas mal!
Outside the periods when I’m scouting for my twice yearly selections of new titles, I’m increasingly setting my own agenda rather than trying to keep up with the flood of new books which is impossible anyway. And as it’s a feature of my listings that I’ve already read them in full, compiling my own summer holiday TBR list at a later date is always an enjoyable task.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE – Anthony Doerr
Given my love of American writing perhaps it’s not surprising that the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction tend to be more to my taste than Booker winners. But this year’s Pulitzer winner is set in Europe during World War Two with French and German protagonists. It was a gift from a writer friend who knows me well and knows what I like – this bodes well!
LES QUATRE SAISONS DE L’ETE – Grégoire Delacourt
Grégoire Delacourt is one of my favourite French contemporary novelists and one who has crossed the Channel with great success, albeit with a time lag: following his huge hit The List of my Desires (La liste de mes envies, translated by Anthea Bell), his second novel has only just come out in the UK, whereas I’ll be reading his fourth on my trip. ‘The Four Seasons of Summer’ (as I assume it will be called) sounds just my kind of thing – following four couples aged 15, 35, 55 and 75 during the summer of 1999 in Le Touquet, representing life’s four ‘seasons’ (I’m liking this because it puts me in the 35 camp, where I haven’t been in a long time). It’s an enticing premise and I particularly love that colour…
ONLY EVER YOURS – Louise O’Neill
Originally published as a YA title, this book attracted instant attention and has now been released in an adult edition to great acclaim. Its young Irish author takes on issues that urgently need to be examined and challenged, notably the pressure women and girls face to look and behave in a certain way. Since female sexuality and the different standards by which men and women are judged are key themes in the book I’ve just written, this is certain to be a very interesting read for me.
THE MIDDLESTEINS – Jami Attenberg
It’s weird that I haven’t read this bestseller already as it has several of my favourite ingredients including a New York City setting and a family in crisis theme (let’s face it, families not in crisis are a complete non-starter when it comes to fiction). But it was reading Jami’s novel Saint Mazie, one of my Summer Reads, that introduced me to her uniquely engaging voice and style and I’ve been saving The Middlesteins for a summer holiday treat ever since.
THE STORY OF A NEW NAME – Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
I’m lucky to have a proof of the fourth instalment of the Neapolitan Trilogy (if that makes sense) but I’m two behind. The first Elena Ferrante I read was the standalone novel Days of Abandonment which blew me away. I didn’t feel My Brilliant Friend, the first in the trilogy, had the same impact but I’ve been assured that the story gains in power with the subsequent titles – this is the second. I love the rawness and ferocity of Ferrante’s writing and I wish all female authors enjoyed the freedom she has by virtue of anonymity to say exactly what she likes.
GO SET A WATCHMAN – Harper Lee
This was chosen by my book group for our meeting in September and since it hasn’t been possible to tune out the general critical reaction to it, I am now nervous about reading it. There’s something special about any one hit wonder that has the power and longevity of To Kill a Mockingbird, eternally spared from comparison… The risk this book presents is greater than that, of course, with the potential to cast a new light on its predecessor and characters who have assumed almost mythical status in readers’ hearts. Oh well, there’s only one way to find out…
SEA CREATURES – Susanna Daniel
I absolutely loved this author’s first novel Stiltsville, one of my Summer Reads 2014, and her second promises more of what she does exceptionally well: beautifully drawn, complex family drama against the vivid backdrop of her native South Florida. As I am in for plenty of sunshine and sea on my trip, it was definitely time this made it off my shelves where it has sat patiently for a long time, and into my hands.
THE INCORRIGIBLE OPTIMISTS CLUB (Le Club des Incorrigibles Optimistes, translated by Euan Cameron) – Jean-Michel Guenassia
Despite me having history with the French 19th century novelists, this epic 600+ page coming of age story which begins in 1959 will be amongst the longest books I’ve read in my second language. A debut published in France in 2011, it’s been an international bestseller and winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens but has only just been published in English. Keeping this one until last as finishing it before I return home may be optimistic on my part…
So that’s what I’ll be reading in the mountains, by the sea and in the city. Have you read any of them? I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying this summer (or winter, depending where you are). If you’re looking for suggestions, check out my Summer Reads 2015 – the final two will be published while I’m away – or any of my past listings. Good books have no expiry date!
I will be back on the Sofa in September with my verdict on the above titles, a French travelogue, the annual Literary Lunch competition and a fantastic autumn line-up of guest authors.
As always Isabel you’ve selected an interesting set of books. I particularly like the sound of The Middlesteins. My summer reads have included The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink which I know you also found very moving. I’ve just started Jellyfish by Janice Galloway, one of my favourite writers and it’s living up to the hype. Have a wonderful time enjoying France with your family.
Hi Isabel…i have read All The Light We Cannot See. What a marvellous book. I love receiving your summer reading list. Just back from Provence where a friend and I were on assignment to do the lavender fields. It was hot but knew that was coming.! One of the best Provence holidays ever.Will write soon,and have a great holiday.
I follow your blog regularly! Ness
I’ve just received a copy of All the Light We Cannot See. I’ll be taking it to Sardinia with me next week. Compare notes in September?
I read Only Ever Yours in Venice and the best way I can describe it is Mean Girls meets The Handmaid’s Tale. Certainly one that sticks in your mind!
I read Incorrigible Optimistes on holiday when it came out ….loved it ! On your recommendation I have bought the Doerr …look forward to your verdict on the Delancourt ( which I looked at the other day ) and Watchman , which I’m in 2 minds about getting . Enjoy your hols and looking forward to catching up ! X