October’s best reads
Light the fire, pull on your onesie (we won’t tell anyone) and pour yourself a glass of medicinal vin rouge – autumn evenings were made for hunkering down with a brilliant book. Muddy book editor Kerry Potter picks out her top three tomes for the month.
Seven Days Of Us by Francesca Hornak
Think your family are annoying at Christmas? You haven’t met the Birches. Arrogant restaurant critic Andrew and his ditzy posh wife Emma are hosting their chalk’n’cheese daughters, earnest doctor Olivia and the narcissistic Phoebe, at their country pile in Norfolk during the festive season. But there is literally no escape from one another, as thanks to Olivia’s recent aid-work in Africa treating a deadly Ebola-style virus, the whole family are placed in quarantine for seven long days. And a lot of family secrets come spilling out over the course of that week. The characterization is sharp – you might remember Hornak’s social satire column History Of The World In 100 Objects from The Sunday Times Style magazine, the plot cracks along at a pace and it’s crying out to be made into a Richard Curtis movie with Hugh Grant as the hapless patriarch. Great fun.
Wellmania by Brigid Delaney
As someone who once ended up horribly ill on attending a juicing retreat in Portugal, I was intrigued to read this Australian journalist’s unpicking of the multi-million pound wellbeing industry. Is it all just an Instagram-propelled con designed to part us from our cash (£90 for a pair of yoga leggings? Sure thing!). Or is it actually making us healthier and happier? Hardcore hedonist Delaney throws herself in at the deep-end to get clean (she tests out a three-month fasting programme, surviving on drinks made of weird herbs), lean (an intensive 6 days per week yoga course) and serene (various spiritual retreats). At times it’s all a bit #firstworldproblems – I mean, what normal person with a 9-5 job/family/other responsibilities has the time/money to practise so frequently they develop a weird yoga hip injury to bleat about? But it’s saved by her brutal openness and how darn funny she is – during the fast, for instance, she takes to licking her flatmate’s bacon frying pan, as licking is not technically eating, while lamenting how fasting is making her pong so much “even my tears smell bad”.
THE HIGHBROW HIT
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
I loved US novelist Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad, which was loosely set in the music industry but darted impishly between location and decade, drawing in a cast of connected characters and various viewpoints along the way. It was dazzlingly clever literary fiction and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Now she’s back with something completely different but just as accomplished. An historical novel, it’s about an impoverished Brooklyn family in the 1930s. The daughter Anna, who grows up to become the first female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the war, attempts to discover why her father vanished when she was a child. The period detail is impeccable, the plot is propelled by mystery element and the prose is, well, dazzlingly clever. If you’re craving something highfaluting, this one is for you.