I’ve had a brilliant literary run recently. I’ve read such great books that I want to exhort perfect strangers to pick up a copy. (I actually did this on the way to work last week, when a surreptitious tear escaped me as I finished a book. I caught the eye of the girl next to me (yep, we were standing. Feminist as I am, I sometimes hanker after old fashioned chivalry) and she gave me the, ‘you okay?’ head tilt. In return, I told her to get her hands on The Versions of Us, tears notwithstanding). If you are headed to a sunlounger/the beach/your garden any time soon, these are the books I’ve loved and urge you to take with you….
The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett
This is the book which had me in tears on the Piccadilly line. (Mind you, last week was my first back at work, leaving my little ones, so pretty much anything has the capacity to render me weepy.) It’s been so trumpeted that I almost didn’t want to like it (do you ever feel like that?) but I did, I did. It’s hooked on the conceit that the choice of a single moment can determine the rest of your life – and then follows three alternative versions of ‘what next?’ If that sounds very Sliding Doors meets One Day, it is. But, to my mind, better than either. It’s charming and very well executed – and so sure and accomplished, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. I thought at first I would mind this jumping between narratives, but the characters – Eva and Jim – are so well-drawn, so true to themselves in every version of their story, that I was utterly invested.
In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
Okay, ‘fess up, did a well-thumbed copy of Forever do the rounds in your school? It was quite the hot ticket at my all-girls’ school. I am prepared to bet that most girls have, at some point, been convinced that ‘Judy’ can see inside their very soul. This is her first book for adults in 15 years, based upon the real-life unlikely events which occurred in her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey: in the space of three months, three planes crash into the town. This novel follows the fallout over three generations, shifting effortlessly and brilliantly between myriad viewpoints – anchored by schoolgirl Miri Ammerman. (Yes – oh loyal Blume fans – this, too, is a coming of age tale in its own way).
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Rakoff
My friend (and provider of fuel for my literary fire whilst I was on mat leave) Helen, sent me this book with a note saying, “I think you will love this”. She was so very right. I adored My Salinger Year, Rakoff’s warm, witty, clever coming-of-age memoir set in a New York publishing house. A Fortunate Age came on holiday with me – and proved an excellent companion. (Yes, I had some time to read, even if it involved lying on a picnic blanket and allowing the baby to crawl, quite literally, all over me.) If you’ve read Mary McCarthy’s iconic The Group, this is for you – it’ll also appeal to anyone hankering after Sex and the City. It follows a group of six friends and graduates as they bumble around Brooklyn: falling in love, pursuing lofty career ideals, finding – and losing – themselves. Gilded children of a ‘fortunate age’ they may be, but they are not immune to disappointment – or tragedy – as their wide-eyed ambition and innocence gives way to something more world-weary. It feels familiar, but is no less readable for it.
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