In the approach to Christmas I was in something of a reading slump but these three novels picked me up and had me reading late into the night.
Yes, of course I read more than three books over the summer, and of course I read non-fiction too (and I’ll tell you about those another time) but these three books were simply marvellous.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood. There are far fewer literary page turners than one might wish, so thank goodness for The Weekend. It’s smart, beautifully written and thoroughly enjoyable.
The three main characters, all in their sixties or seventies, are women renowned in their own professional fields. They have been friends forever but now find that friendship tested when they come together to spend a weekend cleaning out the beach house of a fourth friend, who has died. The Natural Way of Things cemented Wood’s reputation as a talented writer and fierce feminist but The Weekend dials back on that earlier novel’s overt moralising and teaching moments, to positive effect. It blends a crackling storyline with some quite subtle explorations of the characters’ lives—lives that I’m still thinking about weeks later.
Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar. Wow. I mean, WOW. This book absolutely took my breath away.
I was keen to read this, because I’d loved—adored—Treloar’s first novel Salt Creek. And I was simultaneously a bit worried about reading Wolfe Island because novels set in the future usually don’t float my boat. But Treloar writes like an angel, and Wolfe Island explores the issues surrounding climate change, refugees and authoritarianism with subtlety and intelligence.
Set in the USA, in a future possibly only a couple of years away, Wolfe Island speaks directly to today’s issues and concerns. Crucially, Treloar never for a minute underestimates her readers and the result is an intriguing and utterly compelling story about how a set of strangers can become a family. This book is going to win ALL the prizes – you heard it here first.
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I picked up my second-hand hardcover copy of this one years ago, mainly because it had pretty illustrations and ‘horse’ in the title. Then it sat on my shelf, forlorn and unread.
I had no idea it was actually quite a well-known children’s story, or that JK Rowling loves it. And why wouldn’t she? The Little White Horse, first published in 1946, is absolutely charming. Overturning the usual trope of ‘pitiful orphan has adventures, fabulous life ensues’ (yes, Harry Potter, I’m looking at you) the heroine of The Little White Horse begins by living a perfectly nice life in London, painlessly becomes an orphan and so gets an even better life, and finally has adventures in order to make her lovely life simply perfect.
Trust me, it’s not quite as saccharine as it sounds. Well, it probably IS saccharine, and there’s a little too much overt Christianity, but The Little White Horse is delightful too, and quite insightful. With a friendly lion in the role of moral conscience and protector, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this story was an inspiration for CS Lewis’ Narnia series (the first of which was published in 1950).