You’ve finally got the time, so put down that phone and stop refreshing news on your laptop. Instead escape the real world for a bit and read something truly great.
1. A SINGLE THREAD BY TRACY CHEVALIER (Penguin Random House)
I’ve been in need of calming, escapist, easy reads since Covid-19 struck and this, the latest from Tracy Chevalier ticks all those boxes. The American novelist, who’s based in the UK wrote the smash hit Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1999. Her latest release is set between the World Wars in the British town of Winchester. It’s the story of a 38-year-old “spinster” who’s at sea in life after losing both her fiancé and brother during WW1 but finds some solace and a sense of belonging in the local church embroidery group. This is as much a fascinating history lesson of craft as it is a poignant portrayal of being a single woman in the West in the early 20th century.
2. SAY NOTHING BY PATRICK RADDEN-KEEFE (Penguin Random House)
My local book gurus — Kate Rogan and Anna Joubert of Love Books in Melville — told me everyone in the know was coming in for this, and wanting desperately to be part of this literati cool crowd, I grabbed a copy. Happy I did. Well, perhaps not happy — a book that chronicles the history of the Troubles in Ireland doesn’t really have that effect. What this critically-acclaimed work by Patrick Radden-Keefe does do, is clue you up on a the darkest and most bizarre details of the Irish conflict, hinging them all around a whodunnit – the 1972 disappearance of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10. This is exceptional narrative non-fiction and feels like you’re reading a fast-paced yarn, only it’s all true.
3. LOVE, NINA BY NINA STIBBE (Penguin Random House)
As a youngster in the 80s, Nina Stibbe got her first job with a family headed up by the long-time editor of the London Review of Books, Mary-Kay Wilmers. This is a compilation of the letters Stibbe (now a well-known writer) sent her sister during her time as the nanny to Wilmers’ boys, Sam and Will. It’s not a new release but damn you’ll laugh out loud at the family goings on in this page-turner. It’s got loads of heart too — just what we need right now, don’t you think? Once you’ve read it also track down the TV series based on the book starring Helena Bonham-Carter.
4. GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER BY BERNADINE EVARISTO (Penguin Random House)
Hands down the best book I read last year and little wonder that this cracker took home the Booker Prize. Bernadine Evaristo presents a tapestry of interwoven tales, loosely set around London, that documents different women’s stories. They bring to the fore omnipresent issues of race and racism, sexism, social inequality, gender, and abuse. But this isn’t some heavy, worthy read — it is filled with life and humour and makes you appreciate the struggles and joys of normal people. It’s a magical read.
5. THE CUT OUT GIRL BY BART VAN ES (Penguin Random House)
This Costa Book of the Year award-winner takes the Holocaust account genre to the next level. Here British academic Bart van Es takes his own grandparents’ story of being involved in the Dutch resistance (and hiding a young Jewish girl for a time) and unspools it through deep research. What he finds along the way is not the narrative you’d expect — and requires a lot of bravery and balance in its telling. It’s a reminder that people’s lives can be grey in scale. Not everything is the black and white of good and evil.
6. THREE BODIES BY NECHAMA BRODIE (Pan Macmillan)
Joburg journo and author Nechama Brodie’s newest novel Three Bodies is the follow-up to her excellent 2018 fiction debut, Knucklebone. This thriller also delves into the crimes that Reshma Patel and Ian Jack investigate in and around Gauteng and is a treat to read, especially if you’re a local who knows the landscape. But it’s also universal in its appeal as a high-speed chase to unravel crime syndicates and human trafficking outfits and doesn’t shy away from the personal issues of our modern world — including social inequality, racism, and the harsh lives so many South Africans lead.
7. THE DREAMERS BY KAREN THOMPSON WALKER (Penguin Random House)
Fancy a wee bit of dystopia lite? Or perhaps in these days of pandemic, Karen Thompson Walker’s 2019 release feels pretty realistic. A small US town is struck by a viral sleep, and panic mounts as the snooze spreads. The government locks the place down, people die, fear is everywhere. Will anyone survive? This is a quick, smart read and if you’ve not read the US writer’s first extremely successful first book, The Age of Miracles — also end of days stuff — you should add that to the list too.