It’s World Book Day, the perfect time to reflect on some recent good reads and to get excited about forthcoming publications. Gliterary Lunchers love conversations about books and so here are some recommendations to spark some interesting discussion.
You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr
I am nearly finished this vivid novel which focuses on two significant periods in South Africa’s history, the Boer War and the repeal of arpartheid laws. The first half of the book follows the story of Mrs van der Watt and her son Fred who are brutally imprisoned in Bloemfontein Camp after the British seize their farm. As she negotiates life in the camp for survival and above all, to protect her son, we learn about a shameful and little known chapter in British history. The second half of the book follows Willem , his single mum Irma and adoring gran, Rayna. Persistently accused of being a ‘mooftie’, Willem is a gentle boy who loves books and avoids sport, so Irma packs him off to New Dawn Safari Camp where they will make a man of him. Damian Barr has a gift for conjuring up a sense of place and all the characters and their relationships are so well drawn, it is impossible not to care what happens to them all. I can’t wait to see how the two stories collide. He will be talking about this book at the Edinburgh Gliterary Lunch on 26th March.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I loved this book from American writer, Ann Patchett. It is a compelling family story stretching over decades and centering around siblings Danny and Maeve and the extravagant Dutch House. Their father, a self-made property magnate bought the ostentatious mansion as a surprise for his wife. A deeply charitable woman, she is appalled and ultimately walks out on her family to help the poor in India. While Danny was too young to be traumatised by the events, his older sister Maeve harbours deep hurt, accentuated when their father’s new wife disinherits them. As the two characters progress through life, the Dutch House becomes the symbol of all they have lost. Original and engrossing, the complexity of becoming your own person while being anchored by family relationships is resonates brilliantly.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
I thought this might be a bit light but actually it was gripping, mostly because it is based on true events. This is the story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. What started as an organisation in the 1920s that rescued children from terrible circumstances became a highly profitable trade in children. Children were kidnapped, parents duped into signing papers, blind eyes turned by the authorities. Whether sold off for adoption for an exorbitant fee, or left to survive in a Children’s Home, the child’s history was erased. The scandal was exposed in 1951 and was well documented which is where the author found much of her material to create the poor Foss family who live on a riverboat on the margins of society. Interspersing chapters flip to modern times and the politically ambitious Stafford family which I found less interesting but over all a good read.
Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan
This is one of those books where you read the first two pages and then think ‘good, I am going to enjoy this’! The premise is that the perfect mother, Jess, brings her baby into A&E. Her friend is the paediatrican on call and is troubled by the circumstances and struggles to resolve her professional experience with her personal knowledge. As the situation escalates, social services intervene and Jess is privately unravelling. It would be a great book club read as there are lots of interesting themes such as when does personal experience override professionalism, the nature of friendship and mental health, perceptions vs reality, family dynamics and much more. Very well written, great pace and interesting characters. Sarah will be talking about what led her to write this book at the Leeds Gliterary Lunch on 30th April.