There’s nothing like escaping into a good book over the summer break. Here, the team shares some of the books we read and loved over our holidays – and a couple we still can’t wait to read.
I read Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan (Faber) and it made me miss being young, even though I’m still young?! Maybe it’s because we had a year of such disconnect, but this story about lifelong friendship, and that one wild weekend you remember and return to for the rest of your life, made me ache so intensely for a time that was once so carefree. Imagine being carefree again! I’m a sucker for a novel that shows the bookends of a life, and this one did it beautifully. Also, I love reading things in a Scottish accent, so that’s a big tick.
The book I’ve loved most over summer was The Wild Laughter (Oneworld) by Irish author Caoilinn Hughes. This is a study of boom to bust in Ireland, how austerity affected ordinary people and how local customs and social mores were turned inside out. Caolinn’s playfulness and dark humour are reminiscent of Kevin Barry but where the plotlines of his stories sometimes fall away The Wild Laughter gripped me to the end and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I finally got to Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife (Penguin Random House), ten years after its publication, no less. I admit to being late to the Sittenfeld fan club, but I have been making my way through her back catalogue. It’s a superb novel, entirely engrossing and thought-provoking. As a reader living through the events of the modern-day Republican American President and First Lady, who have rewritten the word ‘controversial’, this intimate account of a fictional First Lady to a controversial Republican President in the 2000s did give me pause to consider the thoughts, actions and motives behind the current real-life First Lady.
I picked up Girl, Woman, Other (Penguin Random House) by Bernardine Evaristo with a feeling of duty. After getting used to easy comfort reading (2020 was my year of the rom-com), this summer I felt that surely it was time to suck it up and read an award-winner, even if it might be more worthy than fun. But this book was so fun – and insightful, and intelligent, and deeply empathetic. Evaristo manages to find the complexity and soul in each of her characters without ever losing her self-aware humour.
I thoughtfully gifted Smart Ovens for Lonely People (Brio Books) by Elizabeth Tan to my partner for Christmas primarily so I could read it myself. I’m a sucker for whacky short stories and the winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction is always one to watch, so I can’t wait to dive in to this collection.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (Penguin Random House) by Charlie Mackesy is just a delight, and I’m now enjoying The Bluffs (Penguin Random House) by Kyle Perry as I know (and love) the location in Tassie where it is set.
I’m excited to read Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut The Henna Wars (Hachette), a young adult novel about two queer girls of colour who are each running competing henna stalls. It’s a commentary on sexuality, representation, racism and cultural appropriation, plus it has lots of YA romance and I am very excited to see what it holds for me!
I’ve been reading Women and Leadership (Penguin Random House) by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Not exactly your kick-back-with-a-cocktail beach read, but I’m learning stacks and really enjoying the company of these inspiring leaders, as well as their impressive list of interviewees.
I read Emily M. Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines (HarperCollins) over the Christmas break, which really is the only time to tackle a 600+-page novel. It’s a multi-timeline gothic comedy horror novel that features queer romance, a boarding school, a haunted mansion, possibly supernatural wasps, a cursed film production and a captivating cast of very unreliable characters. And there are footnotes! It’s an absolute joy to read and manages to be funny, scary and romantic almost in the same moment.
I can’t go past a bit of historical fiction, mixed with unusual characters and insight. To that end, The Pull of the Stars (Pan Macmillan) by Emma Donoghue ticked all the boxes. Her latest novel charts three days in an Irish hospital during the Spanish Flu. Medical staff are still struggling to cope with the war-wounded as they are confronted with an increasing number of patients presenting with the strange flu symptoms. I quickly became invested in the characters and Donoghue manages to gently convey the educational, institutional and sexist limitations of the age.
I picked up Lucinda Gifford’s new junior fiction novel The Wolves of Greycoat Hall (Walker Books) because it’s such a striking package, and also because the main character shares the name with (and looks a bit like!) my late dog, Boris. It ended up being one of my favourite summer reads – a charming and funny adventure story that has a message about kindness and acceptance, and with the most delightful illustrations!
I read the sublime new novel from Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults (Europa Editions). I loved Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and while this one didn’t exactly do anything new, it had all the same things that made me adore the quartet: mesmerising prose (in translation by Ann Goldstein), a fascinating Italian setting, and sharp insights into the crippling expectations placed upon young women. I’m ready for more!