What We're Reading - 23 October 2020

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 23rd October 2020

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


Nicholas Clee
Like Carmen Callil's Oh Happy Day, my choice in the previous What We're Reading column, Alison Light's Common People (Penguin) is a social history based on the author's investigations of her working class ancestors. It may be less impassioned than Callil's book, but is just as compelling. Following the branches of Light's family takes us from the suburbs of Birmingham to rural Wiltshire, to Cheltenham, to the fishing villages of Cornwall, to Portsmouth; we learn about phenomena such as pin-making (I had never previously considered the significance of this industry), the Baptists and other non-conformists sects, workhouses, and the navy. While Light has scant material to illuminate the personalities of these family members, she presents a rich and compassionate portrait of the mostly harsh lives they led.

Lucy Nathan
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Little, Brown) is a fantastic book, about identical twin sisters who grow up in a small southern Black community that prides itself on its light-skinned citizens before running away. The sisters' paths diverge, and while Desiree returns home with her daughter, Stella moves to California, where she 'passes' as a white woman and leaves her past behind. The story is told from a number of perspectives and I found all the characters incredibly real and engaging. The Vanishing Half is about so much - I learned a lot about colourism, in particular - and painful at times, but it was easy to read and very enjoyable. Jude and Reese's love story was a particular highlight.

Jo Henry
On the advice of a couple of people whose reading taste I have a high opinion of, I am racing through the first of The Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb, Assassin's Apprentice (Harper Voyager).  FitzChivalry Farseer, illegitimate offspring of the King in Waiting, is unceremoniously dumped at the door of the royal household as a child. Initially looked after by the stablemaster, he is eventually taken on by the King's assassin to train in that ancient art. With trouble brewing both on the coast, where raids by the Red Ships leave villagers in a zombie like state, and in the court itself, the realm has need of Fitz's various abilities. Despite all his training, however, I suspect he will need to employ those little grey cells rather more effectively if he is to survive to the end of book three... though I am happy to be there when he does!

Neill Denny
Halfway through The Guest List by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins). Thirteen guests at a posh Irish wedding, stuck on island in a storm, when one of them is murdered. A locked room mystery, in the open air. Foley's been described as this generation's Agatha Christie and certainly the writing is slick and sharp, but the characters have more depth than Christie's cardboard cut-outs. Predictably (so far) the baddies are a group of public school boys, buffoonish friends of the groom, but there is plenty of time for a few surprises...

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