Books

my favourite persephone books

persephone-books-and-pansy-jug

I've had a bit of a love affair with Persephone Books since I arrived in London. Their charming shop in Bloomsbury's Lamb Conduit Street is one of my favourite places to go when I feel like a treat. 

Persephone reprints "neglected fiction and non-fiction" by 20th century writers, mainly women, and the shop itself is an absolute haven for writers and book lovers. Not only are the books beautiful but there's always fresh handpicked flowers dotted about, vintage posters, bookmarks and other enchanting paraphernalia to get your imagination going. I never fail to feel inspired after visiting.

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And, needless to say, I also never fail to leave the shop without a few books!

One of my favourite podcasts, Tea and Tattle, devoted an entire episode to discussing their favourite Persephone reads last year so I'd highly recommend you check out that episode if you're new to Persephone books and are wondering where to start, because it's quite an impressive catalogue. Many of Miranda and Sophie's recommendations are my favourites too, but they also mention some that I hadn’t thought to check out before - and as they both have great taste in books I’ll certainly be doing so.

The books themselves are also beautiful - as you can see in my main photograph, they are the most elegant shade of grey and look really lovely arranged together. Each book has its own individual endpaper and bookmark, usually a pattern related to the content of the book or the time of publication. Everything has been thought about with Persephone books, and it really shows. 

So I thought I'd share the Persephone books I've most enjoyed since I discovered them - and since my love affair was revived after listening to the Tea and Tattle episode! - but this is a mere drop in the ocean as I am nowhere near through the range. I have many more Persephones than the ones I’ve mentioned below, but I’ve enjoyed every book from them that I’ve read and we’ll be here all day if I list them all! So these are the ones that I think are great ones to start with, in my opinion. If you want some absorbing, well-written books to curl up with on a rainy day with a warm mug of something delicious, you can't go wrong with any of these.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (Persephone no. 28)

This was the first book of Marghanita Laski's I've read and it's made me want to read everything she's ever written. I read it in one weekend and it was absolutely breathtaking. It was desperately sad at times, even depressing, as it follows a father's journey to try and find his missing five-year-old- son after the Second World War, but all in all, it is a stunning novel about loss and hope. I'd even go so far as to say it's a masterpiece. I would also highly recommend To Bed With Grand Music and Tory Heaven: or Thunder on the Right, also by Laski and published by Persephone, and they’re both brilliant. The latter feels particularly pertinent in a post-EU referendum Britain!

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone no. 3)

This is probably my most favourite Persephone book (so far). Described as "a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage", I was quite unprepared for how compelling and absorbing this tale would be. It's a novel all about relationships, how they form and also how they fall apart. Sometimes all it can take is 'someone at a distance' for that to happen. The novel follows what happens to this family when the husband/father is unfaithful, and the emotional devastation that has on everyone - there’s no great twist, per se, but the book’s genius and charm lies in how it explores the emotional lives of the characters, and how compassionately Whipple manages to do this. And I think Louise (the other woman) is by far the most repugnant character I’ve ever come across in literature, and that is saying something! I absolutely loved this book and have all of Dorothy Whipple’s other books on my Persephone wish list!

Mariana by Monica Dickens (Persephone no. 2)

This book is a real delight - Persephone refer to it as a “hot water bottle novel” and that’s exactly what it is. A book you can curl up with on the sofa and escape into. Mostly set in England between the world wars, it’s the coming-of-age story of Mary, whom we follow from childhood right through to the early years of the second world war where she is desperately waiting to hear whether her husband has survived the bombing of his ship. We see Mary’s idyllic childhood summers at her grandparents’ country home, her school days and life at home in a London flat with her widowed bohemian dressmaker mother and actor uncle, her hilarious adventures at drama school and eventually travels to Paris, and all the misguided decisions, in love and all else, she makes along the way. It is a very funny and heartwarming book all at once, for Mary realises, looking back at her younger years, that perhaps they weren’t as perfect as they seemed, and that the grownups did a good job of hiding harsher aspects of reality from her. For most of the book, Mary is less concerned about making her own way in the world and more about filling in time before she meets Mr Right (who will of course be able to provide her with everything, hence not really needing skills or a career of her own as such). And yet by the time the book is nearly over, Mary has realised something else - that her husband is potentially now dead and she will have to carry on, independently. That she will only ever really have herself, and that she doesn’t need anyone else to complete her. Quite a revolutionary thought for 1940! '‘When you were born, you were given a trust of individuality that you were bound to preserve. It was precious. The things that happened in your life, however closely connected with other people, developed and strengthened that individuality. You became a person. Nothing that ever happens in life can take away the fact that I am me. So I have to go on being me.”

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson (Persephone no. 21)

I read somewhere that this book is the closest thing to a Fred Astaire film in print, and I think that’s very accurate. Every time you think it can’t get any crazier, it does. It’s a rollicking romp of a book that is so much fun to read. On an ordinary day, the nearly destitute governess Miss Pettigrew, who has never really known a day of fun in her whole life, is sent by an employment agency to interview for a post….to the wrong address. She somehow gets drawn in to the highly dramatic, hilarious and scandalous antics of her would-be employer, Miss La Fosse, and finds herself doing, saying and experiencing things she never thought she would. There’s cocaine, nightclubs, a woman with a few men on the go…racy stuff! The dialogue is so witty and well-written, I read a lot of it out loud to myself (at home!) and plan to ask my grandmother if she’d like me to read it aloud to her when I’m next at home, because I think she’ll love it. Another ‘hot water bottle’ novel, for sure. It’s just fantastic, and proof that just one day is all you need for your life to completely change!

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E Stevenson (Persephone no. 81)

I loved this one too! A bit like Miss Pettigrew, without the financial security of marriage, Miss Buncle finds herself needing to supplement her already meagre income. She does what many people think will bring certain fame and fortune - write and publish a book! She writes a novel based on her village and all the people who live in it, thinking that changing names and writing it under a pseudonym will be sufficient to hide their true identities. To her huge surprise, her book (or John Smith’s book!) is a huge bestseller and her publisher wants a sequel, but lo and behold, all the villagers have read it, recognise themselves and their village immediately (which says it all, as some of it isn’t flattering!), are outraged and determined to find out who ‘John Smith’ is and make ‘him’ pay. No one suspects the dowdy and quiet Miss Buncle for a second, which is where all the hilarity ensues - but also makes an interesting observation that people often do have hidden lives and assumptions we make about others can so very often be wrong. It’s absorbing, intelligent and very charming.

Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll (Persephone no.30)

If you love cookbooks and social history, you will love this. I was quite surprised to learn that ingredients like camembert and parmesan were available in England in 1921 - I guess one needed to know where to go! I don’t know what it is about food writing, but the best of it recalls a time and place just perfectly. And this book does this beautifully, every essay and recipe evokes a bygone era of gracious living where, if you could afford to (most of the recipes assume the reader has a cook and hired help of some kind!), every meal could be quite indulgent. And Jekyll’s turn of phrase is quite exquisite - instructions for baking biscuits, for example, "they should be of a deep cream colour, merging along their edges into the delicate brown of faded magnolias" had me in raptures. 

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So I hope these suggestions might inspire you to give Persephone Books a try, if you haven’t already. I must say when it comes to fiction these days, I am finding myself drawn more and more to the past, to women writers of the nineteenth and early to mid twentieth century. It might be a reflection of where my head is at in terms of writing my own novel (set in 1948) or perhaps because I find them comforting and a much-needed escape. Reading about the world I currently inhabit (modern day London) isn’t all that relaxing! There’s another blog post in that, for sure….

 The Persephone Bookshop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London.

The Persephone Bookshop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London.

But back to the topic at hand, I have to say I have never been disappointed with a Persephone book. Hand on heart, I have enjoyed every single one I have read. I’m sure if you’re tempted to check out the catalogue, there’ll be something there for you!

On my next visit, I plan to add The Fortnight in September, The Home-Maker and High Wages to my collection. What about you?

Are you a fan of Persephone Books too? What are your favourites?

 

white heart: my stella spark

white heart

A Stella Spark is the book by an Australian woman that struck a spark for you, igniting ideas, creativity and a passion for great writing.

That book for me is the novel White Heart by Heather Rose.

A year ago, whenever I mentioned Heather Rose as one of my favourite writers, I'd get a blank or curious look in return. Now, thanks to her most recent (and brilliant) novel winning last year's Stella Prize, her work has been getting some long overdue and much-deserved attention in Australia. I'm thrilled to hear it. I've been a Heather devotee since White Heart, her first novel.

It came out in 1999 and I read it in 2000, when I was 19. I have re-read every year since. I believe it's sadly no longer in print, which makes it all the more precious to me.

It’s a novel about a woman named Farley who grows up in Tasmania and who, in the face of a devastating loss (though we don’t realise exactly what this loss was until near the end), goes searching elsewhere - overseas and mainland Australia - for meaning, wholeness and love. 
It was one of the most beautifully written books I’d ever read and it still is. It was quiet in its beauty though, if that makes sense. It contained a wildness and a fiery spirit, yet was so gentle.

It sounds trite to say ‘it changed my life’ but it did. Before White Heart, the only glimpses of Tasmania I'd really seen in the literature I'd read was of a gothic, wild and quite oppressive place, but this novel had snapshots of the Tasmania that I actually knew and could relate to, as well as capturing its darker side. It made me realise that I could write about the Tasmania I knew as well.

It was also thanks to discovering White Heart that I started noticing other amazing Tasmanian women writers who had been somewhat unknown to me up to that point, and it opened up a completely new world for me. 

But in terms of actually changing my life…well, *I* had to do that. I was 19 when I first read White Heart and if you’ve read my own book, you’ll know that at that age, I really lost my way. It took a while for me to find my path. But it did spark something. 

And remembering that has reminded me, like Farley in White Heart, I too had to go on a soul-searching journey to heal and find my true self.

I love everything Heather Rose has ever written but I always, always come back to this one. If you ever see a copy, get it! You won’t regret it.

What's your Stella Spark?

my favourite books of 2017

books of 2017

 

I can't be the only person rubbing their eyes and thinking "Oh God, how is it the end of February already?!"...but here I am. I've never really managed to do my best books post of the year in a timely fashion - but I'm determined to never let it get to August like I did several years ago. In my defence, I had spent all of that year writing my own book! 

This time, instead of doing a measly Top 10 which is always difficult to whittle down, I'm just going to pick my favourites and tell you why, in the hope that you'll be moved to check them out too.

So here goes, of the 83 books I read in 2017, these were the ones that stood out. And as always, because I read and savour them like novels, cookbooks are included. 

My favourite book of the year - After by Nikki Gemmell

I am still reeling from this gaping wound of a book. Written in the aftermath of her mother's suicide, Nikki's words made me think long and hard about the relationship between a mother and daughter, how it can be so brutal and beautiful. After was absorbing, heartbreaking, thoughtful, tender, anguished and, as always, beautifully written. 

Fresh India by Meera Sodha

Absolutely stunning, and the first cookbook to make me feel hungry again after having the worst flu of my life over Christmas (sob!). I made the temple tomato rasam as a gentle reintroduction to solid food and it was exquisite. The smell of the garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin and curry leaves frying together was so restorative I almost wept. Every recipe of Meera Sodha's I've made - whether from this book or from her Guardian column - has been sensational so I'd highly recommend you check her out if you like to cook. 

The Dry by Jane Harper

I'd heard great things about this book and wasn't disappointed. Even though I'm not normally a crime fiction person, I've been reading more and more of them lately! The Dry was riveting and well-written, brilliantly paced and intricately plotted. I didn't see the twist coming, which is always a good sign. I found the portrait of the claustrophobic, drought-ridden country town very authentic too. 

When It Happens To You by Molly Ringwald

Yes, *that* Molly Ringwald - who is as compelling a storyteller with the written word as she is on screen and stage. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this "novel in stories" had me intrigued from the first page. Over the course of the book, through these stories where the lives of various characters (convincingly) intersect, Ringwald creates a world where these flawed but ultimately good people find their lives punctured by betrayal, in its various forms. It's realistic and compelling reading, and her writing has a lovely lyrical quality in places. The characters are brought to life beautifully, I particularly enjoyed Betty the neighbour, and how the philandering Phillip was welcomed back into his estranged family. It's a book that makes you think, not just about life and family and relationships, but how might you feel, as the title suggests, when it happens to you.

My Life in France by Julia Child (a re-read)

I re-read this last summer in preparation for my first trip to Paris in over seven years. This is one of my favourite books and this read of it reminded me why. It is just pure joy, from start to finish. Julia finds herself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, knowing very few people and wanting to discover her purpose in life. "At age thirty-seven, I was still discovering who I was," she writes. I feel very similarly! Her delight in discovering the pleasures of food and cooking, and her incredible work ethic and refusal to give up on a project she believed in wholeheartedly, is a balm for the soul for anyone feeling a little cynical or dejected. Never give up! 

Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft

A luscious historical novel that has a bit of everything - love, war, betrayal, heartbreak, tragedy, redemption and hope - resulting in a sumptuous, evocative read with characters that will linger in your mind long after you've finished reading. And, at time of writing, it's only £1.99 on Kindle! 

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

I heard about this book on the Tea and Tattle podcast special Persephone Books episode, where Miranda and Sophie discussed their favourites. I read it in one weekend. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was desperately sad at times, even depressing, as it follows a father's journey to try and find his missing five-year-old- son after the Second World War, but all in all, it is a stunning novel about loss and hope. I'd even go so far as to say it's a masterpiece. 

The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater

I think Nigel Slater could write a book about paint drying and it would still be a bestseller. This book is magnificently evocative and poetic in true Nigel style as he shares with us a celebration of his favourite time of year - Christmas, and winter in general. A cold Christmas is something I've wholeheartedly embraced living in the UK and for the very first time ever, I looked forward to winter after reading this book. All of his ideas - like enjoying a white port and tonic, in the same way you'd enjoy gin - are delicious and inspiring. A must-read for the colder months.

Between A Wolf And A Dog by Georgia Blain

Sometimes I think the best novels are those that are set over the course of just one day. Let's face it, a lot can happen. Between A Wolf And A Dog explores the goings on of one rainy day (and a little bit into the next) in Sydney, in the lives of several characters in one family, by blood and by marriage. Blain explores the pain and heartbreak of separation and betrayal, how life as we know it can be over in an instant, and captures the minutiae of life, from the sound of the rain falling to the colour of an enamel ring on a character's hand, with a poet's touch. The plight of one character's fate is all the more poignant knowing that Blain herself passed away not long after the novel was published. It's a wonderful book and hammers home all the more that the Australian literary community lost someone very special indeed with her passing.

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A completely gripping and engrossing novel with two parallel narratives. In the style of Sliding Doors, you see two storylines playing out if the protagonist, Joanna, had made a different decision. That decision is whether to leave the scene of a crime, or to dial 999 and hand herself in. I was completely engrossed in this novel as the story played out and Joanna grappled with the aftermath of this incident in both scenarios. The anxiety, guilt and fear that she feels - in both storylines - is palpable and will have you turning the pages! It's the sort of story that certainly makes you wonder how you would react if you were ever in the same situation. At the time of writing, it's only 99p on Kindle which is an absolute bargain!

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

Having written a book about self-discovery after a marriage breakdown myself, I knew I'd enjoy this (and undoubtedly think "oh, she put that so much better than I did!"). I found it relatable on so many levels, not just the marriage breakdown side of things because ultimately this is a book about learning to save yourself, rather than a marriage, or anyone else. It's courageous and candid, and I'd highly recommend it if you've found yourself at a crossroads in life and need to see that it is possible to find your way through to the other side. 

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

A fabulous read - what a warm, witty writer Lauren Graham is. I especially liked the sections of the book that reflected on her own writing practice. It revolutionised my own writing practice last year and reacquainted me with the idea of good old fashioned discipline! Funny and inspiring.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

Normally I gulp books down in a day or two, sometimes hours, but occasionally one comes along that demands careful savouring. This was one of them. One of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver turns her exquisite touch to essays in this collection which covers everything from the creative life, meditations on the work of her own favourite writers like Poe and Whitman, or observing nature, such as a spider making a web in the stairwell of a rented house at 5am each day.  I love her boundless curiosity, and how she lives so thoughtfully and intelligently.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

One of the best books on grieving, trauma and healing that I've ever come across. Within just a few pages I was trying not to cry as Sheryl shared the terrible story of her husband's sudden death and the painful aftermath of it. It's a very readable and relatable book with lots of personal insight, research and practical advice - even, believe it or not, humour (she uses sarcasm to great effect in places!) - which anyone navigating a loss I'm sure will find helpful and of comfort.  It's a real tribute to human resilience. 

So, not a bad reading year....and my favourites only had one bloke (and a fabulous bloke at that) among them! In 2018 I'd like to read more British women writers and more women in translation. 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What were your favourite reads of last year? Do you have any goals for your reading this year? Do let me know!

The links to the books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. 

if you want eternity you must be fearless: my favourite reads of 2016

Let's get something out in the open straight away - 2016 was a sucky old year in many, many respects and I for one was not sorry to see the back of it. This year, 2017, already feels lighter, like the heavy energy of the last twelve months has lifted. That said, there are still a few loose ends to be tied up and one of them was deciding on my favourite reads of the year and sharing them on the old blog, as has become a Phil Tradition.

I thought it would be hard to narrow down, as always, but for a change there was a clear winner....the book I was most excited about in 2016 and most enjoyed reading, in fact I enjoyed it so much I read it twice in two months, was The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Allen and Unwin, 2016).  It hasn't been released in physical form in the UK, so last September when one of my best friends was visiting, she brought me a copy over, mere weeks after release! 

  The Museum of Modern Love  by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Heather is one of my heroes. She has been publishing wonderful, exquisitely written fiction, for adults and children, for the best part of two decades now. Whenever someone has asked me in the past to name my favourite writers, and I listed Heather among them, nine times out of ten they wouldn't have heard of her. But this novel is getting her some much deserved and long overdue attention in Australian literary circles - in fact, it's been shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize.  (UPDATE: it won!!)

"I think art saves people all the time."

The Museum of Modern Love seems like such a simple story on the surface, but Heather Rose is in fact threading together many, multi-layered, complex themes and ideas, highlighting that simplicity is often a guise for the most complicated things, art most of all.

Intertwined with a unique exploration of art - what it is, what it isn't, how do you get it to mean something, how does the public's reaction to it influence its meaning and power - is a story about love, loss, grief, heartbreak, betrayal and, most of all, courage. 

The novel takes place against the backdrop of a real life event - the three-month performance of 'The Artist is Present' by Marina Abramovic in New York City in 2010. For those who don't know, the piece involved the artist sitting still for 7 hours a day and inviting members of the public to sit opposite her. There was no interaction in the traditional sense - no touching, no speaking - but artist and audience member sat opposite each other and held eye contact, for however short or long a time as the audience member wanted, or could bear. Many found it a very moving experience and came back again, to sit opposite the artist, and to be seen by her. 

"She watched as the final hours of The Artist is Present passed by, sitter after sitter in a gaze with the woman across the table. Jane felt she had witnessed a thing of inexplicable beauty among humans who had been drawn to this art and had found the reflection of a great mystery. What are we? How should we live?"

In The Museum of Modern Love, a fictional tale unravels about several people who find themselves witnessing, or participating, in Abramovic's performance and how it affects their lives. The central character is Arky Levin, a celebrated composer of film scores, who is grieving for his terminally-ill wife who hasn't physically died yet but, out of supposedly wanting to spare him grief, moved herself into a care facility and cut off all contact with him.  His 22 year old daughter also seems to want little to do with him. Unsurprisingly, Arky finds inspiration is eluding him. Arky somehow ends up at "The Artist is Present" and, over the course of the next three months, watches the performance unfold and various aspects of his life untangle in response. 

I loved the insight into the creative process from perspectives other than writing and acting - the visual arts, architecture, music composition. For a novel, it is a remarkable manual for artists. It even opens with Marina Abramovic's "Seven Steps" (which I now have pinned on the wall above my writing desk).

Therefore, for me, The Museum of Modern Love is almost a manifesto. Heather Rose is asking us, as we read, to think about art and how we connect with it. Connection, after all, as shown through the interweaving stories of all the novel's characters, is what matters, and art is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other. But it takes courage to connect, because in reaching out, in asking to be seen, we make ourselves vulnerable. That is art too. Making art is an act of courage. Therefore, live (and create art) with courage. That is the key ingredient.

This is an original, beautiful and utterly compelling novel. I never tire of Heather's writing - to me, her words are like fine wine, only improving with time.

"Art will wake you up. Art will break your heart. There will be glorious days. If you want eternity you must be fearless."

But wait, there's more

There were so many other books I read in 2016 that I loved, that gave me great comfort, that made me laugh and think, that have been consigned to shelves all within easy reach so I can refer to them again. Here are a few of them!

  A Notable Woman  by Jean Lucey Pratt

A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt

 

I did a lot of research for my current work in progress, which involved reading a lot of war diaries, biographies and history texts about 1940s London. The best of these were A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt (Canongate, 2015) and Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson (Penguin, 2012). 

Jean Lucey Pratt was a lifelong diarist who also contributed to the Mass Observation project. Her collected diaries - A Notable Woman - cover nearly her whole life, from her first diary as a child in the 1920s to her old age in the 1980s. She was my age during the second world war and her diaries of course focus on those events but also her daily life and concerns, her dreams, anxieties and longings which for the most part remained unchanged by the war and all its dramas and hardships. She was still a woman who was figuring out who she was and what she wanted, and often pondered about all the what ifs, missed chances and the might-have-beens. It made me realise that the only thing that distinguishes each decade in history is technology - the human heart, with all its wants and needs, remains the same. I enjoyed her later years as much as I did the war years. She was funny, brave and inspiring. This book was a joy to read.

Millions Like Us is also a fascinating read, following the lives of a dozen women of various ages and backgrounds and the changes inn their lives over the course of the second world war.....and, most interestingly for me, what happened once peace came. The seeds of the feminist revolution that came a few decades later were sown, but many were keen for life to resume as it was, which made things very complicated. It was absolutely enthralling to read and an impressive piece of work, I highly recommend it.

  Nobody Told Me  by Hollie McNish

Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish

Another of my favourite reads of last year was Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars, 2016), a poetry collection by Hollie McNish, which has since won the 2016 Ted Hughes Award. It is a collection of stories, taken from diaries the poet kept during her pregnancy and the early days and years of her daughter's life, of being a young parent in modern Britain. To put it simply - everyone should read Nobody Told Me. Parents, people who want to be parents, and people who don't want to be parents. Those who are and do will feel some solidarity and understanding, those who don't will have their ignorance smashed to smithereens. After reading this book you'll never think 'why would you bring a child on a train at peak hour?' ever again. Hollie's voice is mesmerising, raw, vulnerable, honest, and full of joy. I applaud her and her bravery.

  The Course of Love  by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

I was also blown away by The Course of Love by Alain de Botton (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Known for his wonderful works of non-fiction, this time de Botton has written a novel that follows the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten over, as the title suggests, the course of their love.

This isn't your typical novel, that's for sure. It reads like a case history in parts, like philosophy in others, and there are other sections where  the writing is very lyrical indeed. Whichever genre you think it might fit best, it is a stunning exploration of what it takes to have a successful long term relationship. I think we all know that falling in love is easy. It is the maintaining of that love over the long term, over the course of our lives, that is the real challenge. 

Basically, the Romantic notion of love is what sets so many of us up for a fall. Romance is only part of the story. We are ready for marriage, de Botton writes, when we are prepared to love rather than be loved and compatibility, he explains, is an achievement of love - it shouldn't be a precondition. 

The exploration of this particular marriage between Rabih and Kirsten covers pretty much everything - disillusionment, loss of desire, adultery, "immature rages, late-night threats of divorce, sullen silences, slammed doors and everyday acts of thoughtlessness and cruelty", as well as the loneliness and fear of being vulnerable that can be felt in long term relationships. Alain de Botton has a voyeur's eye as he zooms in on Rabih and Kirsten, going beyond their physical bodies and into their hearts and minds, where he can see everything and how their past experiences, childhood traumas, their earliest experiences of love and what it meant and how you were supposed to show it, are now playing out in their marriage.  

There are many truths in The Course of Love, some of which (having been through a divorce and now having been repartnered for nearly a decade) I knew very intimately. Some of de Botton's observations were so accurate they made me squirm a little. I highlighted a lot of passages on my Kindle version!

Ultimately, I came away from reading this wonderful, wise book feeling reassured and comforted. Human beings are complicated and no relationship is perfect. Love can be quite messy, entailing a lot of compromise, and de Botton's stance is that you can only ever really love and make a success out of a long term relationship if you are prepared to accept that your partner isn't perfect and inevitably they will disappoint you. So much of our disillusionment in life comes from expecting people (not just our lovers, our friends and families too) to be mind readers and meet our needs without our ever having to articulate them, so we need to take a bit more responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness, rather than pour all our hopes into one person.  Also, the occasional blips that you might worry about are actually far more common than you think (well, that, or Alain de Botton must have had my house bugged at some point!).

I think this book should be compulsory reading for anyone thinking about getting married. Having got divorced at 26, when I remarried at 29 I think I definitely went into it with my eyes wide open and with realistic expectations - spare yourself what I went through in my first marriage to get to that point, however, and read The Course of Love instead! 

I could go on about all the books I read and enjoyed last year - if you want to see them, and what I'm reading on a more regular basis than once a year, I am on Goodreads and you are welcome to add me as a friend! 

The best book of 2017 so far? For me, it would have to be Between A Wolf and A Dog by Georgia Blain. I read it in the first few days of January and the poetic and moving experience of reading it I hope bodes well for the rest of my reading year (it has so far). 

What was the best book you read in 2016? 

 

 

 

The Latte Years is on sale this weekend!

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It's April 25 on Monday and it will be TEN years since I reached my goal and began living a completely different life.  A sweet friend from my blogging days in Melbourne dubbed it "Phil's Revolution Day" and I thought was a most apt description!

To celebrate, The Latte Years e-book is discounted on Kindle, iBooks and Kobo all weekend

And make sure you pop back on Monday because there will be an extra surprise for you!

Happy Phil's Revolution weekend to you all xx