I was rambling on to Andrew last night about what a “good run” of books I have had recently and I think he thought I was slightly loopy. I was trying to explain the difference between the love I have for all books, generally (there are very few I don’t enjoy), and the sheer delight it is to read a really, really good one.
I’ve read four “really good ones” in a row, just lately, three of them being by some of my favourite authors and one by a new discovery for me.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is evocative, but never gushy. He writes with absolute precision, using the reader’s powers of inference heavily. His latest book, Klara and the Sun, has become my favourite of his works. Quite simply, it’s beautiful. And, as with all Ishiguro’s writing, it is also a little sad, a little wistful and a little scary. There is also a hopefulness about this one. His narrator in this book is Klara, an “AF” (artificial friend) with outstanding observational skills. Through her story, and that of the people around her, we explore what it means to be human: the grief of it, the power and the vulnerability. We observe the tenacity and fragility of love and walk through the complexities of faith and doubt. Like its narrator, this book is beguiling and tender.
Another favourite author of mine – one of extraordinary skill, I think – is Antony Doerr. I don’t know if many books, by himself or others, could surpass his beautiful All the Light We Cannot See, but his recent Cloud Cuckoo Land certainly holds its own alongside it. It feels like a hugely ambitious book, following several characters across time periods and continents, all of them linked by a quirky, fictional , ancient greek myth. Each character has a firm place in my heart and memory now. They all experience loss and sadness and are affected by many of the ills of the world: war; prejudice; misuse of power; illness; poverty; pollution and damage to the natural environment. But there is a surge of optimism and hope through the book, too, carried in part by the theme of birds and flight.
Shauna Niequist writes about her life in the most warm, love-filled way. I have devoured all of her books, which are essentially memoir: collections of reflections as she moves through life. In all her books, she writes about food and how it brings people together (her blueberry cake from Savor is one of my favourite recipes). She also writes often about friendship and family and the people that surround her and spur her on, those she learns from. Always there, too, is her faith and how that enriches her life, and how her expression of it changes as she matures. There are the themes of writing and reading and creativity in all the books, too; as a reader and writer I love to read her words on this and listen to her speak on it. This latest book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, follows a particularly tough time in her life and a season of change for her. Reading her books, and particularly this one, you get a strong sense of this wise, warm woman (a fallible and vulnerable one, also) inviting you into a little bit of her life, sharing her heart with you, from one woman to another. There’s a sense of the pastoral, like she is taking us under her wing for a little while, passing on wisdom that has been hard-won. She’s a person with an appetite for life and a sense of fun and magic in the everyday, and this, too, is infectious. I really enjoyed spending a bit of time in NYC with her, thinking about grief and growth and all the stuff in between.
And then I’ve discovered another favourite. Sarah Winman is, I think, old news; her book When God Was a Rabbit was widely successful, as were other titles by her, but I hadn’t read any of them until I picked up Still Life. It’s just such a great book. Great story, great characters, great setting (Florence, Italy). I love her references to other literature, particularly A Room with a View. I really enjoy the way she dispenses with speech punctuation, making the reading far less clunky. I love the theme of the family we make. I love the humour, too. And I just can’t wait to get my hands on another of her books.
Who are your favourite authors?