I’m constantly feeding my writing brain with new music, movies, series, documentaries, art, most of which I share through my blog and on my inspiration page. And of course, I always have a minimum of two books on the go. I read a lot of fiction in French, English and Italian. My favourite writers are listed here and my reading list is available on Goodreads.
Each time I open a new book or start a sample chapter on my Kindle, my expectations are high. I often stop early – there are far too many books to read for me to feel I have to finish each and every one I pick up – and I rarely feel a deep connection with the writing. When I do though, I list the novels on this page. Below are the stories that engaged me, moved me, made me feel a combination of jealousy and awe and, I strongly believe, were meant for me.
The silence of the Wave – Gianrico Carofiglio
Twice a week, Roberto Marias visits his psychiatrist. He remembers his childhood in America, but also the years he spent working as an undercover agent. I should probably reveal more about the plot at this point, but I’d rather mention the subtle way the author invites us into the hero’s troubled mind, the elegant and lean prose, the beautiful way he weaves in the various stages in Roberto’s life. Once in a blue moon, I finish a novel and experience a deep sense of loss as well as a combination of awe and jealousy for the author. This was the case after reading Gianrico Cariofiglio’s novel. I miss Roberto and could have easily followed him for another 300 pages.
My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
Elena and Lila are intelligent girls, keen to educate themselves, and they have strong personalities. They live in the poorest area of Naple where violence can spark at any moment. Their complex friendship is seen through the eyes of Elena, the narrator, and makes for a compelling read. It’s been a while since I’ve come across such fascinating female characters and such a powerful story. My Brilliant Friend is is the first of Elena Ferrante’s famous Neapolitan Novels. I’ve devoured the second and third novel and I cannot wait to read the fourth and last one.
Ça peut pas rater ! – Gilles Legardinier
Marie has just been dumped by her inane boyfriend of ten years, Hughes, and she’s on the warpath. Her anger is channeled into saving her company, which is threatened of closure, and her life in general. One day, she receives an anonymous love letter. Who is the mysterious man and will she let him in?
Once more, Gilles Legardinier has written a flawed and likeable central character. His humanity and knowledge of the female psyche are deeply satisfying and he’s the only author, so far, to have made me burst out laughing that loudly and that many times. As with Gail Jones (see below), I have written to Legardinier to tell him how much I enjoyed his book and he responded with a very kind email, as I knew he would.
An Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
What happens when the Queen starts reading fiction, instead of focusing entirely on her job. Not only does she realize that literature is helping her get a better grasp of the people around her, but she also starts dreaming of writing herself. The Buckingham Palace staff is none too pleased about the Queen’s new hobby and decides to intervene.
A funny, moving and thought-provoking novella I wish I’d discovered sooner.
Monsieur Linh and his child – Philippe Claudel
Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety and encounters Monsieur Bark. They do not speak each other’s language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner’s need to care for the child. Recently widowed and equally alone, he is eager to talk, and Monsieur Linh knows how to listen. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures.
An extremely moving and tender novella with a plot that first appears as deceptively simple and yet is very profound.
The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier
At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.
Kevin Brockmeier describes the many experiences of pain in a poetic and delicate way. His characters are all lonely, lost and suffering, but his story is neither voyeuristic nor indulgent. His descriptions of incisions, ulcers and fractures are surprisingly beautiful, disturbingly so. He doesn’t explain the cause nor gives the origin of the Illumination, which serves as a terrifying, yet stunning metaphor for thehuman condition. A deeply moving read.
Broken Verses – Kamila Shamsie
Fourteen years ago, Aasmaani’s mother Samina, a blazing beauty and fearless activist, walked out of her house and was never seen again. Aasmaani refuses to believe she’s dead and still dreams of her glorious return. Now grown up and living in Karachi, she receives what could be the longed-for proof that her mother is still alive. As she comes closer to the truth she is also irresistibly drawn to Ed, her ally and sparring partner, and the only person who can understand the profound hurt – and the profound love – that drives her. Aasmaani’s smart, passionate, and stuck in a past that isn’t hers and she only partially understands. I found her quest moving and the writing beautiful.
Dreams of Speaking- Gail Jones
Far away from home and her beloved but distant sister, Norah, Alice meets an old Japanese man on a train journey. Together they form an unlikely friendship at a crucial point in Alice’s life where she’s reflecting upon her family and her past, and disentangling herself from an old love affair. Alice is fascinated by the poetry of technology, and Mr Sakomoto, a survivor of the atomic bomb, entrances her with his amazing stories of twentieth-century inventions, including Alexander Graham Bell and the mysteries of the telephone. Drawn together by their shared enthusiasms, these two solitary beings slowly come to rely on one another.
Dreams of Speaking is deeply moving book written in a sparse and poetic style. Alice Black is constantly seeking isolation from the rest of the world while feeling a visceral need to belong. M. Sakamoto has survived an unspeakable trauma with grace and intelligence. To my surprise, he made me want to know more about two of the most important inventions of the past two centuries, even though I’m aware of the fact that I would want him to tell me all about those more than read about them. Even though Alice is the heroine, I couldn’t bear to leave M. Sakamoto at the end of the book. I wish I’d known more about him.
I sent an email to Gail Jones to let her know how much I liked Dreams of Speaking and got an answer two days later. Here’s an extract:
I confess I have a bit of a soft spot for Dreams of Speaking and it’s lovely to hear your sensitive and intelligent response. I look forward to reading your work some day soon!
Nos vies désaccordées – Gaëlle Josse
François Vallier, a young and famous concert pianist, discovers that Sophie, the woman he was passionately in love with and whom he abruptly abandoned, has been committed for many years. He cancels his concerts and takes a room in a hotel near the clinic where’s she staying. As he visits a silent Sophie every day, François unravels their relationship, which started with an encounter at a violin maker.
Nos vie désaccordées is my kind of novel: deceptively simple yet powerful and beautifully written. A must read.