The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables
The catastrophic wildfires in Australia this winter have inspired me to pick up again one of my favourite books, The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (Vintage). His history of convict Australia is a breathtaking piece of work; once read, never forgotten. The harshness of the environment and brutality of transportation as a punishment are laid out in merciless detail: this was Britain's precursor of the Siberian gulag. Not for the faintheaded, but it is a book I will recommend with hesitation. At the very least you will understand why the Australians want to beat us so much at cricket.
I have been determined to dig into Willy Vlautin’s backlist after Don’t Skip Out On Me, and had been recommended to start with Lean on Pete (Faber & Faber). A road trip, coming of age, hardship, self-discovery and an old faithful horse are all included in this tale of 15 year old Charley Thompson. Once again, I have been completely enamoured and I heartily commend anyone who has not discovered this author to give him a go. I’m told that Motel Life is the next stop for me on the trail of this author but all recommendations welcome.
Having chaired two events starring Horatio Clare, I know him as a charming man and a fine writer; and listeners to his wonderful Radio 3 broadcasts about long treks through Germany and Greenland will be aware of these qualities too. I have also sensed that he is someone for whom life is not always easy. His The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal (Elliott & Thompson) is both a candid account of seasonal mental struggles and a lyrical, touching record of the beauties of winter and of the warming joy of family love. It is the perfect read for this dreariest of months.
After years of failing to read it in print, I’ve decided to listen to Catch 22 instead. Brilliantly read by Trevor White, this unabridged version from Hachette Audio feels like the ideal medium for such a quirky, episodic novel with no discernible narrative structure - and listening to it really highlights Heller’s extraordinarily effective use of language too, so far mostly to comic effect but I am sure that will change as the book progresses. I won’t attempt further analysis, as I’m sure everyone else has been reading and appreciating this book for years, but now at last I see the point too!
I am still making my way through my reread of Robin Hobb's first Farseer trilogy (HarperVoyager) - they are so well-written that it feels like a shame to skim over any lines. I'm currently in the middle of the third book, Assassin's Quest, which leaves court intrigue behind and follows the main character, Fitz, as he treks cross-country to find his uncle, the King-In-Waiting Verity, who is on a quest to save their shores from raiders. These books are rich with detail and heavy with emotion. I am infuriated by every moment I spend not reading them.