I quite often read relatively slim tomes, without writing down enough thoughts in my notebook to type up a full review. I have collected together ten such books which I have very much enjoyed, and which are fitting to read in a single sitting.
1. My Robin by Frances Hodgson Burnett (50 pages)
‘Fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden will relish this charming anecdote that further expands upon the robin that features in that book. In response to a reader’s letter, Burnett reminisces about her love of English robins — and one in particular that changed her life forever.’
2. Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman (162 pages)
‘In this graceful and compassionate fiction, three generations of mothers and daughters in the McCarthy family face the challenges of Alzheimer’s. This story offers unusual insight into the consciousness of Hannah Pearl, who lives her daily life with courage and generosity in spite of her confusion. Although her daughter and granddaughters attempt to help her stay in the present of her Connecticut shoreline town, Hannah increasingly inhabits the world of her ardent youth in war-torn France and England. As Miranda McCarthy and her daughters Fiona and Ida walk on tiptoe around Hannah’s secrets, it is the reader who discovers and illuminates all the pieces of this intelligent and dream-like puzzle.’
3. Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (176 pages)
‘A marvelous new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Lowland and Interpreter of Maladies–her first in nearly a decade.
Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the center wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father’s untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and “him,” a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective will change. This is the first novel she has written in Italian and translated into English. It brims with the impulse to cross barriers. By grafting herself onto a new literary language, Lahiri has pushed herself to a new level of artistic achievement.’
4. The Part-Time Job by P.D. James (46 pages)
‘Follow the ‘Queen of Crime’ as she takes us into the mind of a man who has waited decades to enact his patient, ingenious revenge on a school bully.’
Also included in The Part-Time Job is a highly enjoyable essay entitled ‘Murder Most Foul’, which I feel the book is worth picking up for alone.
5. The Shortest Day by Colm Tóibín (31 pages)
‘In Ireland, a man of reason is drawn to a true mystery older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge in this enthralling story about ethereal secrets by New York Times bestselling author Colm Tóibín.
During the winter solstice, on the shortest day and longest night of the year, the ancient burial chamber at Newgrange is empowered. Its mystifying source is a haunting tale told by locals.
Professor O’Kelly believes an archaeologist’s job is to make known only what can be proved. He is undeterred by ghost stories, idle speculation, and caution. Much to the chagrin of the living souls in County Meath. As well as those entombed in the sacred darkness of Newgrange itself. They’re determined to protect the secret of the light, guarded for more than five thousand years. And they know O’Kelly is coming for it.’
6. My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather (112 pages)
‘”Sometimes, when I have watched the bright beginning of a love story, when I have seen a common feeling exalted into beauty by imagination, generosity, and the flaming courage of youth, I have heard again that strange complaint breathed by a dying woman into the stillness of night, like a confession of the soul: ‘Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy.'”
Willa Cather’s protagonist in My Mortal Enemy is Myra Henshawe, who as a young woman gave up a fortune to marry for love—a boldly romantic gesture that became a legend in her family. But this worldly, sarcastic, and perhaps even wicked woman may have been made for something greater than love.
In her portrait of Myra and in her exquisitely nuanced depiction of her marriage, Cather shows the evolution of a human spirit as it comes to bridle against the constraints of ordinary happiness and seek an otherworldly fulfillment. My Mortal Enemy is a work whose drama and intensely moral imagination make it unforgettable.’
7. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton (112 pages)
‘Glancing by chance at an advertisement in the Spectator, Stephen Glennard perceives a way to escape the downward spiral his career has taken, begin a new life for himself, and win the hand of the beautiful Alexa Trent. It would seem he has one highly sought-after possession: the letters written to him by the eminent and now deceased author, Margaret Aubyn. All he need do is silence his uneasy conscience and sell the letters for publication.
As the publicity frenzy around its publication heightens, the Aubyn Letters becomes the latest hot topic among the glamorous and money-driven society that Glennard’s wealth now gives him entrée to. And the source of greatest fascination is the identity of the man whom Aubyn so adored but who has betrayed her so irrevocably. Glennard, resolute in his silence, can only watch in dismay as, from the grave, Aubyn begins to exert a powerful and unmistakable influence over him.
Exploring the dual themes of money and moral compromise, The Touchstone is an early and extremely accomplished work, foreshadowing many of Wharton’s greatest novels.’
8. Summerwater by Sarah Moss (208 pages)
‘On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.
A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.’
9. Olivia by Dorothy Strachey (112 pages)
‘When Olivia turns sixteen she is sent to a Parisian finishing school to broaden her education. Soon after her arrival, she finds herself falling under the spell of her beautiful and charismatic teacher. But Madamoiselle Julie’s life is not as straightforward as Olivia imagines and the school year is destined to end abruptly in tragedy.’
10. The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang (28 pages)
‘The Fruit of My Woman is about a woman born in an impoverished fishing village. She wants to go to the ends of the earth on her own but, believing that marriage is ultimately one of the best ways to face the world, she ends up settling down with her husband. They gradually lose their attachment and affection towards each other. Aside from the communication problem, the woman’s wish of running away from her husband to a remote place fails to come true. She then imagines herself as a plant soaring through the veranda ceiling of her house up to the roof top. Through this outstanding story, the writer shows that people have a strong will to escape from the mental fatigue and hopelessness of modern life.’
Are you tempted by any of these books? Which are your favourite books to read in one sitting?