The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
Grace Dent writes wonderfully evocative - and sometimes acerbic - restaurant reviews in The Guardian, and her memoir, Hungry (HarperCollins), is equally full of insight. Her account of growing up in a working class household in Carlisle, her relationship with her parents, particularly her adored father (who called her his only little girl despite having, as she later discovered, two others by an earlier marriage), her memories of childhood meals and her early ambition to 'get into the media' is both thoroughly entertaining, and, as her father slips into dementia, moving too. And listening to her read it on audiobook makes it even better.
I listen avidly to Francis Durbridge's Paul Temple mysteries from the Fifties and Sixties broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. How soothing to spend time in the company of urbane crime writer and amateur sleuth Paul, with his instant access to Sir Graham Forbes of Scotland Yard, and of his glamorous wife Steve, with her feminine intuition. At the end of each case, Steve will make some offbeat observation, Paul will observe, "By Timothy, women are extraordinary", and everyone will chuckle. Lovely stuff. So when I spotted a mention of Murder at the Weekend: The re-discovered serials and stories of Francis Durbridge edited by Melvyn Barnes (Williams & Whiting) in Mike Ripley's ever informative and entertaining Shots column, I snapped it up. Durbridge's unadorned prose is less dated than his dialogue, though his grasp of emotion is feeble: in the first serial here, several characters seem only mildly dismayed to discover that their loved ones have become murder victims. But fans of period crime will find that these convoluted tales offer delicious bedtime reading.
A dead child, a mysterious oak used for hangings, a bleak Northern setting, grieving parents living miserable lives: Andrew Michael Hurley's Starve Acre (John Murray) manages to combine some pretty grim elements into an enjoyable, gripping read. Was the dead child haunted by the hanging tree? Some sort of seer? Can his mother still see him even though he is dead? I don't yet know for sure, but I do want to find out. Special mention also to the helpful Mancunian at Waterstones Sutton, who literally ran up the stairs to get me the book (an exclusive edition no less) despite a lengthy queue at the till - much appreciated.
I'm halfway through rereading Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (Vintage), which I first read as a teenager and then carted around in my schoolbag for months in the hopes someone would ask me about it and I'd get to prove what an intellectual I was. It's such a densely written book that I get more out of it every time I read it, and this time is just as joyful as all the others. I'm not sure I've ever read a book where humour and pain are so deftly interwoven. I know the prose isn't to everyone's taste, but I love the fact that it's dripping with adverbs and that it's just a little overwritten. It's the opposite of what most writing advice tells people to do, and I love this book for that. It's multilayered, painful, funny and gorgeous, and I'll probably be reading it every few years and discovering new things for the rest of my life.
My crime sorbet this week is Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club (Viking). This has been a massive triumph in the market and if you were going to wish authorial success on a celebrity then this charming guy would be high on your list. Smart and understated, witty and generous, he supported the Durham Book Festival by even making the journey to the North East during the loosening of the lockdown in the Summer in order to enhance a digital event for a festival that had already been declared virtual. Talk about giving generously of your valuable time! The book itself appeared to be an affectionate mash up of the Bletchley Circle and Morse's colleagues if you had time warped them all into eccentric pensioners in lockdown and exaggerated each character by force feeding them an overdose of chamomile tea. Very prettily done and cleverly positioned for both film/TV and subsequent books but if you demand a real edge to your crime this may not be for you.