Author Victoria Hislop joins us to give her pick of the best reads this autumn. All you have to do is curl up somewhere cosy and enjoy!
My autumn reading will be a mix of comfort and challenge with the occasional diversion into something chilling. I tend to alternate between non-fiction and fiction, from more gentle reading to something exciting (though rarely hardcore crime). I think if we read in the same genre all the time, then one book starts to get blurred with another.
Autumn is such a wonderful time to read. The only reason I find longer evenings bearable is because I can sit down a bit earlier with a book. I am quite puritanical and, except when I am on holiday, I always think the sun should have gone down before I curl up with a novel (it’s not unlike my rule for a glass of wine!). These are the books I recommend this autumn…
Destination Fabulous by Anna Murphy
Anna is Fashion Editor of The Times, but this is not a book only about what to wear. It is about the joy of ageing and accepting its challenges, and, in fact, being excited about it.
Wonderfully realistic, it is also exhilarating and gives huge encouragement to anyone over fifty that this is just a beginning. I am almost sixty-five and everything Anna has written here resonated with me. And, of course, there is some guidance on how to look! She exhorts us to be bold and wear bright colours – I have already shopped for something other than my usual autumnal black.
Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk
This is a trilogy, but each one is brief, and it’s impossible not to read them all (maybe with a gap between each one). I have become a huge fan of Cusk. She writes with such daunting honesty and frankness (in the first person) and describes ordinary people and their lives in such a way that they become extraordinary.
An apparently simple encounter becomes the inspiration for many chapters. Like all the best writers, Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout for example, the style is deceptively simple, but the words lived with me long afterwards.
Undercurrent by Barney Norris
This is Norris’s new novel, and he is hugely gifted.
With a light touch he writes about life and loss, what influences us, and making decisions, all in a very flowing style.
Although there is plenty of pathos here, it’s a hopeful book. I think we need optimism both in our lives and in our reading – and I think this is especially true as the days get shorter.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Everyone needs a good thriller in autumn – and the best writer in the genre is Stephen King. He never lets me down.
Billy Summers is about a hired killer. A likeable hired killer. At the beginning I found it hard to believe that this character could be in anyway sympathetic, but soon I was completely engaged by him and persuaded that in some way he would be doing the right thing by killing another man. This demonstrates that King must be among the world’s best storytellers because he can manipulate his readers, as well as his characters.
When Billy Summers faces extreme jeopardy himself, the heart literally palpitates – and without giving away what happens at the end, it left me in floods of tears. King took me to a whole other environment, a totally alien world.
Lessons by Ian McEwan
And then into the reassuring company of Ian McEwan, who is one of the best writers in the English language, someone who constructs sentences so perfectly there is never one word too many or too few. Each of his novels has taken me into new territories and faced me with new ideas.
Lessons reads convincingly like a believable biography, but I daren’t imagine it is. It begins with the protagonist as a fourteen-year-old boy who is seduced by his piano teacher. This becomes a relationship, an obsession, a secret, that will have an effect on the rest of his life.
It sounds like an uncomfortable start, but the novel goes on with many others musings on life and mortality – and with more than 500 pages it’s perfect for many long evenings of reading.