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Books I Wish More People Would Read

I have just come across a Goodreads list entitled ‘Books I Wish More People Would Read’, and have stolen its title for my own purposes here at The Literary Sisters.  A lot of the books which I read seem to slip under the radar, and there are several which I have adored, or very much admired, of late, which I rarely see others reviewing, or even reading.  I thought that I would therefore make a list of six books that I would happily thrust into the hands of every reader whom I meet.  (Please note, it is entirely a coincidence that all of these books were written by women!)

 

185908911. Don’t Go To Sleep in the Dark: Short Stories by Celia Fremlin
Don’t Go to Sleep in the Dark (1972) was the first gathering of Celia Fremlin’s short fiction, a form in which she had published prolifically – for the likes of She, Playmen, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – while building her reputation as a novelist of psychological suspense.  Female characters predominate in these tales, as does the doom-filled atmosphere that was Fremlin’s metier. She explores her familiar theme of strained mother-child relations, but she also delves into the supernatural realm as well as the psychological. As ever, her capacities for making the everyday unnerving and keeping the reader guessing are richly in evidence.

 

2. May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks (review here) 15701573
May We Shed These Human Bodies peers through vast spaces and skies with the world’s most powerful telescope to find humanity: wild and bright and hard as diamonds.

 

321449223. A House on the Rhine by Frances Faviell
Having made her publishing debut with The Dancing Bear, a superb memoir of life in Berlin immediately after World War II, Frances Faviell applied first-hand knowledge to fiction, telling the riveting, harrowing tale of one large, troubled family in Germany nearly a decade after the war’s end.  In a town near Cologne, rebuilding is proceeding at a frantic pace, factory work is plentiful and well-paid, and the dark days of near-starvation have ended. But Joseph, a former Allied prisoner of war, and his enormous brood–his wife having received a medal under the Nazis for bearing more than 10 children–face new problems ranging from the mother’s infidelity, the oldest child’s involvement with a brutal youth gang leader, and a beloved adopted daughter’s plans to marry an American soldier.  Vividly portraying the love and conflict of a large family and the dramatic, sometimes tragic social change of Germany’s postwar recovery, A House on the Rhine is a powerful, heartbreaking tale from the author of the London Blitz memoir A Chelsea Concerto.’

 

4. We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood 18760917
A privileged young wife on a large Cornwall estate gains responsibility and confidence when her husband leaves to fight overseas. This English home front saga then becomes something more when she leaves for France herself to rescue a friend from danger.

 

9773745. Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts
Booker Prize Finalist, Daughters of the House is Michèle Roberts’ acclaimed novel of secrets and lies revealed in the aftermath of World War II. Thérèse and Leonie, French and English cousins of the same age, grow up together in Normandy. Intrigued by parents’ and servants’ guilty silences and the broken shrine they find in the woods, the girls weave their own elaborate fantasies, unwittingly revealing the village secret and a deep shame that will haunt them in their adult lives.

 

6. The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna 17237713
Aminatta Forna has established herself as one of our most perceptive and uncompromising chroniclers of war and the way it reverberates, sometimes imperceptibly, in the daily lives of those touched by it. With The Hired Man, she has delivered a tale of a Croatian village after the War of Independence, and a family of newcomers who expose its secrets.  Duro is off on a morning’s hunt when he sees something one rarely does in Gost: a strange car. Later that day, he overhears its occupants, a British woman, Laura, and her two children, who have taken up residence in a house Duro knows well. He offers his assistance getting their water working again, and soon he is at the house every day, helping get it ready as their summer cottage, and serving as Laura’s trusted confidant.  But the other residents of Gost are not as pleased to have the interlopers, and as Duro and Laura’s daughter Grace uncover and begin to restore a mosaic in the front that has been plastered over, Duro must be increasingly creative to shield the family from the town’s hostility, and his own past with the house’s former occupants. As the inhabitants of Gost go about their days, working, striving to better themselves and their town, and arguing, the town’s volatile truths whisper ever louder.

 

 

Have I convinced you to pick up any of these unfairly neglected novels?

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‘We That Are Left’ by Juliet Greenwood *****

One of my favourite things about reading historical fiction is that feeling of immersion; that I am right there with the characters in any given and realistically evoked time period.  We That Are Left is one of the most immersive reading experiences which I feel I have had in a long while; I could barely tear myself away from Juliet Greenwood’s beautiful and harrowing story which unfolds at the outbreak of World War One.9781906784997

Greenwood’s novel centres around protagonist Elin Helstone, a young, married woman who lives in her childhood home in Cornwall with her husband, Hugo.  They are relatively well off, and live a comfortable life, but this offers no escape from Hugo’s experiences in the Boer War, which continue to haunt him.  When the outbreak of the First World War is announced, and he has to travel to the Front, Elin learns to cope with running the Hiram estate on her own.  Her cousin Alice and incredibly rich friend Lady Margaret, known as Mouse, also make their own choices, and end up feeling great pride with regard to the sacrifices they consequently make for others.

The realistically constructed women who people We That Are Left demonstrate the unfairness of their position throughout, even before war is announced.  Each is forward thinking, and make tiny rebellions when they are able to.  They realise that there will be a dearth of men during the war, and they need to make an effort on a personal level to keep things ticking over at home; they know that the barriers, for a little while at least, will be torn down, and they can go out to work without being scorned.  Alice, for instance, when reminded that as a woman, she should want little more than marriage and motherhood, measuredly replies: ‘Why should everyone be the same?  Why should every woman who ever lived wish to be a mother?  Especially when the experience is quite likely to kill her…  I have so many things I wish to do with my life.  So many places I want to see.  Oh, I love children and enjoy their company.  But that does not necessarily mean I have a burning desire to have my own.  Not when it would cost me so much.  I would far rather have my independence.’

I will happily read any novel set during the First World War or thereabouts, as I have studied the period in detail over the years, and find it absolutely fascinating.  Throughout her novel, Greenwood highlights the great change which has already come to England and Wales, but focuses upon the world as it was for women; wearing trousers instead of a skirt was frowned upon, even for those doing manual work, and women were prohibited from taking University examinations purely on account of their sex.  Greenwood’s characters make things of themselves during the war; Alice almost immediately goes to work in a nearby hospital with the war wounded, and Mouse decides to go off to France to help the soldiers there.  Greenwood’s characters are brave, and feel realistic both as individuals and as an entire cast.

We That Are Left is incredibly well informed with regard to both the social situation and the war.  Greenwood has such an understanding of the complexities and shifts of feelings and emotions.  The descriptions, particularly those of the natural world, are breathtakingly beautiful.  Entirely captivating and so well written, We That Are Left swept me away, and I cannot wait to read more of Greenwood’s work in future.

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