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Reading list to survive the summer heat

Now that you have some time off, here’s a list of books to keep you entertained

brunch Updated: Apr 21, 2018 22:49 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
summer reading list,beach reads,The Only Story by Julian Barnes
This is the time of year when newspapers and magazines like to recommend what they coyly term ‘beach reads’(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

This is the time of year when newspapers and magazines like to recommend what they coyly term ‘beach reads’. As in fluffy, wispy books that don’t demand much of you, so you can idly read them as you drink another mojito or pina colada by the sea or poolside.

These books will go well with whatever sugary drink you choose to drink as you dry off after a swim

Well, the books that I am about to recommend for your summer reading are nothing like that. No, no, don’t be scared. They are not thick, dense tomes that will leave you bored or just depressed. Not at all. These are books that tell a cracking good story, that will keep you entertained and engaged until the last page, and will go perfectly well with whatever sugary drink you choose to drink as you dry off after a swim. So, read on – and then read up. And have a great summer break!

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

Yes, you’re quite right. The Only Story (worth telling) is a story about love. More specifically, it is about a May-December romance between Susan, a woman of 48 and Paul, a boy of 19, related in retrospect by the old man he becomes. The first section is related in the first person by Paul. In the second section, the narration shifts to the second person as things begin to unravel. And the third and final section segues effortlessly into third person as Paul looks back on life. As a study of young love, it is heartbreakingly accurate. As a memoir, it is unbearably poignant. And as a novel, it is quite brilliant. But then, you would expect nothing less from Julian Barnes.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

If you are a parent of young children, you might find that this gory tale of a nanny who snaps and kills her young charges (no, that doesn’t merit a spoiler alert, the fate of those two kids is apparent from the start) cuts a little close to the bone. But if you can power through, you will be rewarded by a book that is a work of dark beauty, with the slow breakdown of the nanny – and the events that contribute to it – laid out in excruciating detail. It makes for difficult reading sometimes, but who said good literature has to be easy?

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

The best way to describe this book is as a refashioning of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley with an all-female lead cast, as seen through the camera lens of Alfred Hitchcock. The novel is set in Tangiers (hence the title, Tangerine) that serves as the location of a reunion of two college mates. Alice Shipley is the young wife living there with her husband, when her old friend Lucy Mason (with whom she had a messy falling out) drops in unannounced. The story is told in the alternating voices of Alice and Lucy, neither of whom is an entirely reliable narrator. That sets up the shifting sands on which this novel rests, leaving the reader bewildered and enthralled in turn.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

As debut novels go, this one is unexpectedly assured, pulling together two narrative strands that seem entirely unconnected until we come to the very end. The first story is that of a young woman in her 20s who works in publishing and falls into a love affair with a famous writer in his 70s, Ezra Blazer (Halliday herself had an affair with the much older Philip Roth when she was around that age; so there is no escaping the autobiographical allusions). The relationship is, by its very nature, asymmetrical (hence the title, one assumes) and we can tell at the beginning itself that it won’t end well. The second story is that of an Iraqi-American who is stopped at immigration in London on his way to Iraq, and who tells us his story in flashback. How do these two halves make a whole? Well, you’ll have to read the book and find out.

An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism by Neyaz Farooquee

The subtitle best summarises what this memoir is about: ‘Growing Up Muslim in India’. The book is sparked by the Batla House Encounter in 2008, which took place only a few doors away from where the author – a student at Jamia Millia Islamia – lived in those days, and how those events affected him. It is from this starting point that Farooquee goes back and forth in time to tell us his story, which begins in a small village in Bihar, from which he is sent forth to study and live in Delhi as a small boy. Written in a simple yet lucid style, this book is required reading for those who want an insight into what it means to grow up Muslim in India.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

This psychological thriller – as is evident from the title – owes a lot to the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock. The protagonist is yet another unreliable narrator (they seem to be highly popular these days), child psychologist Dr Anna Fox, who has become agoraphobic after an accident and spends her entire time locked up in her apartment. She spends her time taking pictures of her neighbours until one day she witnesses a murder in a facing apartment. The problem is that no one will believe her; and she is not entirely sure she believes herself. So far, so Hitchcockian you might say. But then, Finn delivers a final twist that you never see coming. And I guarantee, it will leave you winded – and wanting to read the book all over again to see what you missed.

From HT Brunch, April 22, 2018

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