I like to think that no library should be without Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and JD Salinger’s four books, Catcher In The Rye, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and my favourite, For Esmé – with Love and Squalor (the UK title for Nine Stories).
Having said that, the novels I list below are what I call a ‘comforting read’. They are delightful and transporting. They cheer me up and make me feel more affectionate towards the world.
Love in a Cold Climate by
This is the second in a series (which includes The Pursuit of Love and Don’t Tell Alfred), and my favourite. All about madcap English families, having passionate crushes and meeting unexpected saviours. Mitford recreated her own eccentric upper-class world with razor-sharp relish and dash. (Tom Hooper’s two-part BBC TV version, which combined the first two books, is also highly recommended.)
It was a hot, peaceful, optimistic sort of day in September.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by
A quick but delightful read about a plain middle-aged governess who gets a second chance in life when she accidentally steps into the world of a young glamorous socialite. Reprinted by the gorgeous Persephone Books, whose bookshop in London’s Bloomsbury is definitely worth a visit for its charming elegance and lovely shop assistants.
The Best of Everything by
About young women in the 1950s entering work at a New York publishing house and their torrid love lives. Very trashy but good fun. The amount of cocktails they drank takes my breath away. How did they stay standing? How, how? A decent-ish speeded-up film adaptation was made in 1959.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by
A hilarious (fictional) account of a housewife and mother’s daily life in 1950s England. Delafield’s daughter, RM Dashwood, wrote a similar book called Provincial Daughter, which I also enjoyed.
Tales of the City by
This started as a serial for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1980s. This book and its sequel, More Tales of the City, are my favourites in the series of eight (and counting).
Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by
Set in the post-WWII period as people are starting to reassemble their lives. The eccentric characters make for a vivid, fun and deeply pleasurable read.
A Widow for One Year by
This is my favourite Irving novel, with The World According to Garp as a close second. Grappling with sexual identity and a ripping tour through the characters’ lives, this is my idea of a compulsive page-turner.
I Capture the Castle by
A favourite amongst British teenagers, I came to it as an adult and love it to death. A deeply charming story about an eccentric English family who live in a castle, as the two teenage daughters search for love.
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
I find Ephron’s essays and films just as enjoyable, but this novel has a bit more grit than her other work. I love her sharp, clean prose. It’s pacey, poignant without being remotely schmaltzy, and comes with great recipes thrown in for added value.
Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson
Another treasure from Persephone Books, this one is set in a small village where Miss Buncle dares to write a thinly disguised novel based on its habitants, and the chaos that ensues. Also great fun is its sequel, Miss Buncle Married.
The Making of a Marchioness by
A short book (and I’d definitely avoid its sequel, which has an altogether different, darker tone) of Cinderalla-esque qualities that makes up what it lacks in depth and polish with its charm and protagonist. This is another offer from Persephone Books. It’s also available to read for free online.
A Suitable Boy by
My cousins and I all read this the same summer, and spent months at every dinner party discussing in depth the characters and what could happen next − so much so, a cousin not in the loop asked us who we were gossiping about so earnestly. It was as if we were in the same post-independence Indian world created so lovingly by Seth. We await breathlessly for the upcoming sequel, A Suitable Girl.
Little Women by
Of course! Everyone’s perennial favourite childhood read still engages, comforts and pleases like no other. A tale of the four March sisters in New England during the Civil War. One of my favourite lines in the book is by Amy:
Let us be elegant or die.
My name is Stuart, and I remember everything.
An unbeatable first line of a book, surely? Ignoring the abrupt ending, the witty observations and characterisation is peerless. I also love the sequel, Love, Etc. There’s a French film adaptation of the first book (but titled – confusingly – Love, Etc.), which is worth watching.
Circle of Friends by
This is a darling of a book. I read it while recuperating from an illness and it totally transported me. About a group of university friends in 1950s Ireland. A decent film adaptation was made too.
A Far Cry from Kensington by
I’m a huge fan of Spark, and find her sparse, concise writing a real pleasure. This story is set in 1950s London where the protagonist works in a publishing house and gets entangled with the lives of her fellow housemates.
- Anything and everything by our patron saint, Jane Austen, of course.
- The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith (yay for Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi!).
- The Cazalet Chronicles (trashy but compulsive) by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
- Anything from the Social Comedy section listed by Persephone Books.
- Anything by Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor (yes, the other one).
- The Blandings series (mostly novels, some short stories) by PG Wodehouse; somebody (Penguin Random, I mean) please put them all in sequence and release a proper collection.