Catherine Taylor Recommends: Books for Spring Days
We’re delighted to feature writer, editor and co-runner of the Brixton Review of Books, Catherine Taylor, on the Belgravia Books blog. Catherine shares some of her favourite books for the warmer weather, a beautiful mix of classics and modern fiction, all available now from Belgravia Books’ online store.
The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Alma Classics Evergreens, £6.99
Rebecca West described Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel The Enchanted April as ‘a particular kind of witty and well-constructed fiction, a sort of sparkling Euclid, which nobody else can touch.’ First published in 1922, it is a sunlit tale about what happens when four very different – and differently dissatisfied – English women answer a classified ad in The Times, offering the April rental of an Italian castle for ‘those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine’. Gradually, the surroundings begin to work as a balm on the fussy troubled quartet. Perceptive, witty and never cloying, this is a book in which to discover magic.
Spring, by David Szalay. Vintage, £8.99.
Disaffected, ambiguous, understated, and beautiful in its collective disappointment, James and Katherine, the two main characters of David Szalay’s novel Spring, meet at a London wedding in early 2006 and over the ensuing months attempt an uneven relationship. James is an entrepreneur whose attempts to launch himself never really succeed; Katherine is separated from her husband, and is working as a receptionist in a luxury hotel. The novel is less about rebirth than about the passing of the old and the often impossible nature of the new. Szalay’s observations, details and his deft interplay of light and shadow make for a wonderfully realised work about the diffidence of modern romantic relationships.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Penguin English Library, £5.99
Though Persuasion was Austen’s last completed novel, published at the end of 1817, six months after the author’s death, it is a book primarily about life, and second chances. Anne Elliot, whose “bloom had vanished early” remains, at 27, shockingly (for the time) unmarried, having, at 19, been persuaded by her snobbish family to reject her poorer suitor Frederick Wentworth. Eight years on, they meet again, with the circumstances of both protagonists now reversed, and Anne despairs of finding happiness with Frederick again. Melancholy, steadfast, this is the most mature and – perhaps because it is the quietest of Austen’s works – the most romantically satisfying.
Saraswati Park, by Anjali Joseph. 4th Estate, £8.99
Anjali Joseph’s debut novel is a delicate and timeless work, set in a shabby suburb of Mumbai. Empty-nesters Mohan and Lakshmi take in Mohan’s 19-year-old nephew, student Ashish, to share their small apartment in a housing complex. Ashish, directionless, finds himself willingly seduced, first by a fellow student, then an older male tutor. Lakshmi, bullied by a demanding brother, seeks solace in daytime TV. Mohan, who works at the GPO, reads the works of Henry James, and daydreams. Little happens in terms of plot, yet the novel rings true to life. Joseph sensuously evokes a Mumbai of gentle rain and mynah birds; despite its specificity the themes of Saraswati Park are universal.
Women, by Mihail Sebastian, translated by Philip Ó Ceallaigh. Penguin European Writers, £8.99
Mihail Sebastian is acclaimed as one of the greatest Romanian writers of the 20th century. Heavily influenced by the works of Proust, and compared by playwright Arthur Miller to Chekhov, he survived the war as a Jewish man in Romania only to die tragically, aged 37, in 1945 as the result of an accident. First published in Romania in 1933, his debut novel Women, a loosely connected novel in four parts about the early romances and later reflections of “primed for love” Stefan Valeriu – from student in Paris to doctor to government official – is a modern classic, a stunningly rendered portrait of the interwar years in Europe.
Voices in the Evening, by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by D.M. Low. Daunt Books Publishing £9.99
Post-war rural Italy is portrayed through a richly absorbing series of vignettes in this 1961 novel by the great chronicler of Italian life Natalia Ginzburg, who uses the background of a small village community emerging from fascism to relay stories which seem all the more incredible for being so prosaic. Elsa, the book’s narrator, keeps her own secret love affair under wraps as she focuses on the tales of two generations. Gossip, dreams, and heartbreak interfuse in a book where hopes for the future seem eternally set against the ruins of the past.
CATHERINE TAYLOR is a freelance editor and writer, and the former deputy director of English PEN. Her reviews and features appear regularly in Guardian Review, FT Life & Arts, TLS, New Statesman, Prospect, Irish Times, The Economist and the i-paper. She has judged book prizes from the Guardian First Book Award to the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Catherine is editor of The Book of Sheffield: A City in Short Fiction (Comma Press, 2019), and is currently working on The Stirrings, a cultural memoir of the city in the 1970s and 80s. She co-runs the free literary quarterly Brixton Review of Books. She tweets @KatyaTaylor.
Posted on May 24, 2021 by Isabelle Flynn in