A Miscellany of Summer Reading


Can it be? Summer’s here? Perhaps it once was, and may yet show its face again, but if 1st July typically marks the start of the season in everyone’s mind, it’s fitting that we get prepped for our poolside/beach/terrace reading.  Philip Cottam picks out a selection of titles to while away those long, leisurely days to come…

David Nicholls – You Are Here

Anyone who enjoyed Nicholls first book One Day only to be disappointed by the original film version should already have had their morale raised by the sharp-witted and well-characterised recent TV series. Fans of Nicholls should alsobe pleased to read his latest book, You Are Here, which charts the developing relationship, on a coast to coast walk, between two characters approaching middle-age, Michael a separated York-based geography teacher and Marnie a divorced London-based copy editor. Despite the situation in and through which they are thrown together seeming somewhat contrived Nicholls manages to make it work largely through the entertaining dialogue between his two characters, in turns witty and wry. For the reader it is certainly an entertaining walk despite the wet socks and the weather. Published by Sceptre.

Rose Tremain – Absolutely and Forever

It comes as little or no surprise that the multi award winning historical novelist Rose Tremain has won yet anotherprize for her 17th and latest novel – Absolutely and Forever. The title refers to the kind of love that never goes away but is so often fated to be unfilled because of timing and circumstance. The story starts with a teenage love affair and then follows the life of Marianne, the female protagonist, as she escapes from a middle-class suburban life to the excitement of London in the 1960s where she eventually marries a childhood friend despite still pining for her teenagelover. It is a sad story written with the elegance, compassion and insight into the human condition that characterises all of Tremain’s books. Published by Vintage.

Mick Herron – The Secret Hours

Anyone who has either read Slow Horses or seen the successful TV adaption, starring Gary Oldman as the boss of an eccentric group of spies exiled for a varied mixture of personal weakness and professional incompetence, will enjoy thisnew book from Mike Herron. For those who have not encountered Mike Heron before it will provide an excellent introduction and hopefully encourage a visit Slow Horses whether in book or TV format. The Secret Hours is set round a present-day inquiry into an earlier unsanctioned operation in Berlin not long after the Cold War ended. While it is not anaddition to the Slow Horses series it does contain much of the same atmosphere full of bureaucratic chicanery, obfuscation and paranoia all accompanied by a leavening of cynicism and wry humour. For those who enjoy the machinations of the intelligence services it makes for another entertaining read. Published by Baskerville.

Max Hastings – Operation Biting: The 1942 Parachute Assault to Capture Hitler’s Radar

With Operation Biting Max Hastings has produced another well researched and well written book that adds to ourunderstanding of the Second World War. In this instance, he describes an early small scale special forces operation, theBruneval Raid, carried out in 1942, to discover how a German radar worked. It was one of several such operations thathelped in the development of the tactical skills, intelligence gathering and detailed planning that eventually resulted in the success of the D Day landings. The operation began with insertion by parachute followed by a sea evacuation. The significance of Operation Biting was not that just it was successful with minimal casualties, despite all not going quite to plan, but that it gave confidence in the possibilities of such operations. As ever, Max Hastings provides both the ground level detail that brings his story to life as well as the big picture overview that puts the operation and its planning in context. Published by Harper Collins.

Mishal Husain – Broken Threads: My Family from Empire to Independence

Occasionally onecomes across a family history that is both a moving love story but also one that carries with it a deep sense of the challenges faced by an earlier generation. This is one such a book. Mishal Husain has not only produced a wonderfultribute to her grandparents and parents’ but also a dramatic picture of the violence and instability involved in the partition of India and the establishment of Pakistan. Especially remarkable is how her Muslim grandfather Mumtaz andhis Catholic wife Mary survived at a time of such extremism. Husain brings to life both the details and struggles of daily life as well as providing the wider political and cultural context within which that life was being lived. This is a superb book. Published by Harper Collins.

Anna Funder – Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life

Anna Funder is the prizewinning author of Stasiland, a superb evocation of life in communist East Germany. Her latest book, Wifedom, is a startling as well as controversial biography of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the first wife of GeorgeOrwell. It is startling because of the vibrant, brave and adventurous character of the otherwise little-known Eileen that emerges from Funder’s detailed research. The descriptions of her activities in war torn Barcelona are especially revealing. It is controversial because of its relentless assault on Orwell as a serial adulterer and misogynist who exploited his wife’s good nature. Indeed, as the result of complaints by members of Orwell’s family some passages have been rewritten since the book was originally published. That said, it remains an illuminating and immensely readable biography. It not only brings an exceptional woman to life but also adds to ones understanding of Orwell the man. Published by Penguin.

Hannah Barnes – Time To Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children

Given the heated on-going debates about the trans issue and how best to look after confused young people as they go through the trauma of adolescence this forensic study of what went wrong at the Tavistock Gender Clinic makes it even more clear why the Cass Report was, and is, so important. With Time to Think, Hannah Barnes, a Newsnight journalist, has produced a non-ideological, meticulously balanced and deeply researched study (there are well over 50 pages of notes backed up by over 100 hours of interviews) whose statistics and exposures of failures of medical practice are truly shocking. As one commentator remarked, this is not a culture war story but a medical scandal whose consequences will not be fully understood for some time yet. Published by Swift.

Header photo by Dan Dumitriu, courtesy of Unsplash