So it’s been a whole year since my last missive for Girl, 20. A lot happened in that year. We bought a flat in a state of relative disrepair and set about doing it up, decorating and turning it into a home, I became a wife (on the hottest, most beautiful day of the year), I visited America for the first time (two trips – both the East and West Coasts) and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. So a year of ups and downs.
During that year, reading took a backseat. In fact, it was so far down the priority list that weeks went by when I didn’t read a single book. Novels were replaced with medical texts, book reviews with internet discussion forums. In fact, the only books I wanted to read – I actually craved – were those dealing with real life. Biographies, memoirs, popular psychology and philosophy – texts offering glimmers of hope in what was a very dark time. A highlight among those was Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Marsh is one of the country’s leading neurosurgeons who also happens to be an incredible writer and storyteller. He dispatches his nuggets of wisdom and philosophies of life through tales of individual patients he has treated in his lengthy career. So dextrous is his prose style that you almost forget you are reading case studies; he manages to transform them into gripping, thriller style stories of life or death. Devastatingly honest without descending into sentimentality, he offers a refreshing and illuminating perspective on this fascinating area of medicine.
Another memorable read from this period was Alain de Botton‘s forthcoming novel-cum-popular philosophy text The Course of Love, due to be published by Penguin at the end of April 2016. It follows a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, from their first meeting through the various stages of a relationship – moving in together, meeting each others families – to marriage, having children and the challenges that follow. Told in narrative form interspersed with practical philosophy texts, de Botton presents almost a classic case study of marriage. He attempts to explain, using philosophical teachings, why we feel the way we do at different stages, why difficulties arise, he even suggests how particular problems could be solved or at least pacified. Rabih and Kirsten are ordinary, flawed people with insecurities, emotional baggage, irritating habits and nagging doubts. As a newlywed, it was refreshing to read such an honest, unsparing account of a marriage. If you enjoy Alain’s recent experiment, The Philosophers Mail, you will most certainly enjoy this book.
Other highlights from 2015 included Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, a heartbreaking masterpiece of a novel which left me absolutely agonised – unable to recommend it to anyone because I found it so disturbing and harrowing, but desperate to discuss it with those who had read it (if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean!), Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau; an incredible, sexy yet horrifying tour-de-force of a book which left me desperate to read whatever she writes next and Matthew Thomas’ epic We Are Not Ourselves which felt like one of those classic great American novels despite being his debut (unbelievable!)
Now onto 2016: I’m happy to report that as my health improves, as do my reading habits – I’m beginning to get back into the swing of things again. At the moment I’m reading the last book in the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, All Change, a series I will be very sad to finish. This year I’m looking forward to reading new books by David Szalay, Francesca Kay, Maggie O’Farrell and Curtis Sittenfeld among many others. Which novels are you looking forward to in 2016?