As vacation draws to a close and the new semester is about to begin, we asked some of our writers to tell us about their favourite books that they raid over the summer break.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
By Auriol Reddaway
Travelling around India over the summer inspired me to read novels about the country; novels that would educate and inspire, like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy does. This novel’s genius is in blending broad analysis of 1950s India with likeable and hilarious characters who you care about like friends.
It follows four families through nearly two years of marriages, careers, illnesses and love, set against the backdrop of post-independence political turmoil. The plot revolves around Mrs Rupa Mehra’s desire to find a husband for her spirited youngest daughter, Lata. However, the novel encompasses so much more, frankly discussing the religious tensions of mid-20th century India, with some of the most vivid passages describing religious violence and riots. It also delves deep into the political unrest of the time, with fascinating scrutiny of Prime Minister Nehru’s decisions. This is not to say it is a dense read, despite its 1488 pages. Seth’s use of multiple narrators gives everyone a perspective and leaves no character as an afterthought.
Ultimately, it is a very honest and charming portrait of 1950s India, without sugarcoating any aspect. Seth’s sequel, A Suitable Girl, is due to come out next year – exciting news for fans of the first book.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
by Emily Stewart
“No one was truly alone. Not ever, not in this house.” The Silent Companions is a chilling read equipped with classic Gothic tropes and unsettling paranormal disturbances. Purcell is guaranteed not to disappoint Gothic fans with her arsenal of familiar motifs, including locked doors, the strange and inexplicable, and things that go hiss in the night – all set in an eerie country estate in 1865. Readers familiar with Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black will indulge in Purcell’s clear inspiration from the classic Gothic novel, though Purcell introduces a strong and resilient female lead, Elise.
Pregnant and newly widowed, Elise desperately attempts to begin her new life with only her late husband’s strange cousin and incapable servants for company. However, it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems when she discovers a mysterious collection of wooden figures, including one that looks identical to herself. Purcell’s vivid descriptions and chilling narrative expertly craft an atmospheric ghost story that you’ll want to read in the safety of light summer nights. Its easy-to-read and enticing plot is irresistibly harrowing; a novel certain to chill you to the bone even in the summer heat.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
by Lydia Willcocks
Over the summer, I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. As a memoir detailing the year following the death of the author’s husband and the hospitalisation of her daughter, it may have not been the most obvious choice for a summer read. However, after a recommendation from a tutor and a spell of recent deaths, I wanted to see if it would provide enlightenment on grief and mourning.
The Year of Magical Thinking explains the way death can take our minds to the most illogical places and how grief is dictated by re-living and re-analysis. Didion toils with regret, frustrations and triggering memories while her emotional detachment and intense self-awareness provide a detailed insight into the many manifestations of grief. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a depressing read. There were moments of humour and journeys through pleasant memories and it is certainly a book that will be picked up and read again many times. I have now passed the book onto my grandmother, who has had her fair share of tragedy, and that is where the magic of this book lies; in its simple and beautiful prose, anyone can find resonance and healing.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
by Sarah McCallum
This summer I finally finished reading Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. You might ask why it took three years to finish a book that is only 208 pages long (yes, I did check), and my answer would be I’m easily distracted and to mind your own business! The beauty of a book like this one is that even if you haven’t looked at it in six months, the characters and sometimes ridiculous plot are so engrossing that you can’t help but pick it up and jump right back into it. The second book in Adam’s five-part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe picks up where the first book left off and lives up to the high standard of quality set by its predecessor. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, fantastic world building, outlandish yet always entertaining characters, and an incredibly unique and engaging narrative style, this is the book for you, though you may want to start with the first novel in the series.
Image: Alan Levine via Flickr