1 February 2022 Susannah

Quality, quirkiness and reading satisfaction

Authors Niall Williams, Sarah Winman & Richard Holmes

I’ve had a fabulous start to my reading year! Quality, quirkiness, erudition and utter reading satisfaction have been provided by three very different books. Let me share them with you:

This is Happiness by Niall Williams (left in the image above) is a novel set in an Irish village which is going to be connected to the electricity grid. I found the first chapters a little slow to really get into, but after that I was hooked. The book was so beautifully written, moving and tender, and such an awesome evocation of place.

Still Life by Sarah Winman (centre). I listened to this quirky novel, read by the author herself, and was immersed in Florence, the unusual characters and the humour of the book. I learned a lot about the terrible flood in Florence in 1966 and the role played by students who came from around the world to help in the clean-up.

This Long Pursuit by Richard Holmes (right). Holmes is a superb biographer and his books Footsteps and Sidetracks (both utterly wonderful books) tell of his journeys and researches as a biographer. This book completes his trilogy and examines the history of biography, what a biographer chooses to leave in or out, how biography has changed over the centuries, and it includes his personal reflections on the job of biographer. Absorbing, brilliant, erudite, entertaining – I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be one of my Top Books for 2022. I am in love with Richard Holmes!

What books have kicked off your reading year? Do you have a must-read recommendation? Tell me by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Authors Niall Williams, Sarah Winman & Richard Holmes. images from: https://www.niallwilliams.com/, https://twitter.com/biflorence, Katie Chan https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22242423
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Comments (8)

  1. Geraldine Bull

    I listened to Still Life as well- as I do when I am sewing! I remember those floods when I was at Uni, but at that stage I hadnt been to Florence, as I have since several times, so I couldnt see it in my minds eye as i can now.Her descriptions of the places were so wonderful. The characters in the book were so engrossing, and I agree with a previous comment, Claude is a delight.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      He’s a great parrot, isn’t he. I felt so moved when he died.
      Glad you also loved the book.

  2. Ruth Wilson

    Such an interesting spectrum of books Susannah! Like you I loved ‘This is Happiness’, but unlike you I was immersed from the moment I was introduced to Faha. The book fulfills the Niall Williams’s own criterion for story telling (p 117), it takes you ‘elsewhere’. This book is definitely on my list of ‘bed reads’, as was another book about what happiness might be, Joan Silber’s ‘Secrets of Happiness’.My first read this year has been Hannah Kent’s ‘Devotion’; she is a beautiful writer, but at some point I thought her language almost too rich to digest. I wonder if you agree? I haven’e read ‘Still Life’ yet, but it is in on my life, as is Richard Homes, after reading your comments. The current explosion of memoirs makes his study of biography an interesting point of comparison; I am enjoying ‘Artful Truths, The Philosophy of Memoir’ by Helena de Bres. Her thoughts on memoirists’ responsibilities to their readers is worth reading. Thanks again Susannah for opening up such such fascinating reading avenues.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I started This is Happiness at a time when there were too many distractions. I think if I’d had some uninterrupted time, I’d have got straight into the magic of the story. So my fault, not the author’s.
      I have not read Hannah Kent’s first book. I really enjoyed Burial Rites, but very much disliked The Good People, so that has rather put me off.
      The memoir books sounds intriguing – another to add to my list.
      Thanks, Ruth, for your insightful comments and encouragement.

  3. David Castle

    I am reading “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeleine Thien, amazingly on the list for HSC extension English. Shortlisted for the 2016 Booker prize and beautifully written but full of complexity. All about the Chinese cultural Revolution. I’m loving it, but any thoughts or comments?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It’s not a book I’ve read, David, but it sounds excellent so clearly one I must add to my list.Many thanks.

  4. Margaret Debenham

    I so loved Still Life! The book was so full of love and forbearance, even the unlikeliest characters turned out to be lovable charmers (even Col – who would have thought?). I loved the way Cress, who initially seemed so untransplantable (that probably isn’t a word)from the East End of London, fitted in so beautifully and found such happiness in Santo Spirito. And Claude was the wisest and most comical parrot ever. The relationships among the characters were so beautifully drawn, and the evocation of their Florentine neighbourhood was perfect, so easy to visualise every scene. I knew I was going to love the book from the moment Pontormo’s Deposition was mentioned in the first few pages – that extraordinary and beautiful painting. The account of the 1966 flood was the best I have read; the fear and chaos and destruction became so incredibly real. I have many books about Florence, fiction and non-fiction, as I love it dearly (despite the crowds), but this is definitely one of my favourites.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t it a moving and lovely book? Like you, I found the characters really grew on me, and I just loved the account of the floods. I’d heard of them, but knew nothing of all the international volunteers who came to help.
      Perhaps my only criticism is that so many of the characters were openly gay at a time when that wasn’t done, and such a large proportion of the characters were gay. I assume the author is gay, but I felt she could have perhaps had Massimo and Ben as non-gay characters – it just felt a bit unrealistic for that era. But I did love the book!

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