Drop everything and read! Start with one of these …
Courage to act?
Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is the shortest book recognised in the history of the Booker Prize. Longlisted in 2022, it probes the terrible truths that underscore our societies and systems and how easily we can get caught up in them. When Bill Furlong discovers a shivering girl locked in the shed of a convent, will he risk his hard-won security and daughters’ futures by defying the Catholic Church and the Irish state? (The author’s note about the Magdalene laundries, is chilling.)
William on a whim
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Oh William! had been Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Lucy (My Name is Lucy Barton) and William reflect on their marriage breakdown and the partnerships they’ve pursued since. They unearth family secrets (how William’s mother reshaped herself at great cost is a pivot point), and confess the worry and wonder of having mature-aged children to still look out for but who also look out for them. Not quite Olive Kitteridge, but Elizabeth Strout you’ve done it again!
Grass baths and badgers
At 16, when Robert Appleyard sets off from his coal-mining village in Durham, he has no idea how his life will be shaped by a chance meeting with Dulcie, a middle-aged eccentric who opens his mind to his potential. “Regimes rose and fell,” Robert muses later in life, “and I kept coming back here, to the meadow, to write and read and think, to take grass baths in the moonlight and watch badgers at dawn.” The Offing by Benjamin Myers is a delightful book.
‘Time dilates and shrinks’
Sarah Holland Batt’s The Jaguar is a recent release which wraps fresh and compelling language around dementia and its degenerative effects – and it is beautiful. Holland Batt’s poetry doesn’t sugar-coat her father’s 20-year trajectory with Parkinson’s dementia. It does honour her father’s humanity and chart her loss, sing with sorrow and chime with celebration. We learn of the strength of his grip like a claw, the way his “time remaining dilates and shrinks”, and of green jelly fed to him in a tender “last rite”.
‘Magnesium flares falling’
Lucy Caldwell’s novel These Days is set in Belfast over four days and nights of bombing during the Blitz in 1941 seen (mainly) through the eyes of the Bells, a middle-class family. Audrey sees “the first magnesium flares falling, bursting into incandescent light, hanging there over the city like chandeliers”; it’s real but also a metaphor for the intensity in their relationships. Working class cameos show us bombs do not discriminate. These Days is a gripping and exquisitely told story.