Writing was hard for a lot of authors during lockdown, what with everyone suddenly stuck in the house, and home-schooling, and job losses, and other life changes. I’m one of the lucky ones. Despite the stress, I managed to put down some words. Perhaps because of it. Writing has always been there for me in the hardest times. During lockdown, it was the sisters I couldn’t see. It was the son I couldn’t visit. It was the daughter I couldn’t hug. It was the theatre I couldn’t work in. I wrote my memoir, Daffodils, which is now out on submission.
I also read some words. Quite a few. Some brilliant ones. Some affecting ones. Some powerful ones. Some close-to-home ones. Some not-even-out-yet ones. Here are reviews of some of my favourite books of the last few months…
THE MINDERS by John Marrs
I was so lucky that I got to read an early version of this, and was yet again blown away by Marrs’ ingenuity. He is one of the most original thriller writers of this decade. This one, involving five ordinary people selected to have the country’s secret information implanted into their heads via genetic coding, is very Black Mirror, set in the near future, and with clever nods to Marrs’ other works’ themes/storylines. He has replaced Sidney Sheldon for me, in that whatever he turns his hand to, I have to read it and can never put it down.
SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent
This one was recommended and gifted to me by Susie Lynes. Oh, she knows me well. Such a difficult book to categorise, which are often my favourites. But one that I read in two or three sittings. The writing is sublime, the settings alive with reach-out-and-touch vividness, and the main character, Delia, is the most dark, fascinating and terrible woman I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. Did I say it was dark? Did I say I love the dark? I do.
LULLABY by Leila Slimani
The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds. Who could not read on after these opening lines? This brief, precise, breath-taking book is another I won’t forget. Louise is a nanny. Not a Mrs Doubtfire kind of nanny, that’s for sure. That’s it. I’m not going to say any more. Just read it.
MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Another recommendation/ gift, this time from John Marrs. This was such a deeply disturbing but necessary read. Vanessa thinks she had a relationship with Jacob Strane. She thinks he was her first love. She believes this. But she was just fifteen and he was her teacher. A clever, clever book about how grooming is so subtle the victim doesn’t even know it’s happening – even looking back as an adult.
DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST by Dara McAnulty
This absolutely beautiful book is by a young autistic boy with a passion for nature. The language is so evocative, it made me cry. If this is how he writes at fifteen, I can’t wait to see what he produces in years to come. His deep love of wild spaces around us, folklore, and history is truly joyful to experience.