‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,’ by Elizabeth Taylor

Novel, 1971 That rare, and really wonderful thing; a novel with biting satire, an almost dismissive, disdainful humour, a great sense of place and sadness, and a big, big heart. the rather unpromising premise of the book is the arrival of the titular Mrs Palfrey at an old persons’ hotel – one step from a care home – on the Cromwell Road in London. Characters … Continue reading ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,’ by Elizabeth Taylor

‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ by James M. Cain

Novel, 1934 A gritty, earthy and all-in-all brutal novel telling the story of a drifting jailbird and his mistress, and their attempts to plot out and away into a new life. This is a hard boiled fiction told from the perspective of the villain, and while there’s the occasional revelation of stark humanity, the gnarly dialogue and the values, opportunism and fallibility in the characters … Continue reading ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ by James M. Cain

“Those Without Shadows,” by Fran├žoise Sagan

Novel, 1957 Slim novel covering the lives of various bored Parisians drifting in and out of relationships with each other. The number of characters and the various lapses and involvements makes this a slightly tricky book to really pin down and get a proper feel for. As a result, it as if we, the readers, are all part of some vague, voyeuristic and removed world, … Continue reading “Those Without Shadows,” by Fran├žoise Sagan

‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

Novel, 1873 A heavy critique the Second Empire which was established in mid-nineteenth century France, through the fictionalised struggle and treatment of an aspiring ‘thin man’ revolutionary. Florent is pitched against the vast and stultifying displays of greed and wealth of Les Halles and the food around it, with particularly effective scenes and displays established in and around Florent’s brother’s charcuterie. The gluttony of those … Continue reading ‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

‘Property,’ by Valerie Martin

Novel, 2003 A compelling, well-written book, taking an interesting view of the slave trade and its effects on individuals. This is a book about the experiences of a sugar plantation’s mistress, trapped in a loveless marriage, and the relationship she has with the slaves, and particularly with Sarah, with whom her husband has an illegitimate child. This book is bold in taking this perspective, particularly … Continue reading ‘Property,’ by Valerie Martin

“The Reader,” by Bernhard Schlink

Novel, 1995 A straightforward, first-person narrative of a young man who has an affair with an older woman with something of a history she’s not keen to share. Ultimately, this is a book about reactions to the Holocaust and feelings of desire, guilt and attempts to come to terms with and rationalise what happened and how people can deal with the aftermath and after effects. … Continue reading “The Reader,” by Bernhard Schlink

‘The Seige,’ by Helen Dunmore

Novel, 2001 A novel which starts out as a love story in war-threatened Russia, which then plays out as a long, savage struggle for survival as the Nazis besiege Leningrad. For the most part, the writing remains compelling and shows the very worst of humanity, but also the huge grasp and grip on family and society. The historical references and research occasionally get a little … Continue reading ‘The Seige,’ by Helen Dunmore

‘The Stone Diaries,” by Carol Shields

Novel, 1993 Beautifully told story of Daisy Goodwill Flett, whose seemingly ordinary life is told through a narrative which moves around between different members of her family and uses other devices and points of view to build a picture, not only of Daisy, but also of the relationships with her family members and friends. There’s a real depth and warmth in this book, right from … Continue reading ‘The Stone Diaries,” by Carol Shields