Discover some books that shed light and insight on the oldest of emotions.
At Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to love and romance. It can be found in all walks of life and all times of life, and it’s definitely not the preserve of the young (despite what they think!)
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh (Tinder Press £7.99)
When Jenn and Greg – her nice but perhaps slightly dull husband – go on holiday to a Mediterranean island, they are delighted to find themselves in the sun, with cheap wine, olive oil and delicious food. They have been before and are delighted to find all as they remembered, with a great beach, an unspoilt and gorgeous restaurant where the owner greets them like all friends. All seems well. But then Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter arrives with her new boyfriend Nathan. Oh dear… The overwhelming attraction that 50-something Jenn feels towards her stepdaughter’s 20-something boyfriend sizzles off the page. This is a highly charged and tense drama that will have you holding your breath for the outcome. A fascinating essay on family life, female desire, the allure of youth versus the experience of age and the sheer difficulties of raising other people’s children. A brilliant read.
Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd (Quercus £7.99)
What do you do if you’ve been married to a man for half your life and out of nowhere he leaves your bed – permanently? When this happens to Jeanie, she’s furious and hurt, and determined to confront George, her husband of thirty years. Her worst fear is that he’s in love with someone else. The brightest day of her week is Thursday; the day Jeanie takes her granddaughter to the park, and there, one day, she meets Ray and his grandson. Ray is kind, easy to talk to, and gorgeous – everything George isn’t. She starts to live for Thursdays. This is a sweet gentle story, with a wealth of domestic detail. The idea that romance can come to grandparents is done with a deft hand and certainly made me look twice at the quiet couples that sit holding hands on a park bench whilst a rosy cheeked toddler plays on a bike. Who knows what goes on in your local park!?
Fear of Dying by Erica Jong (Canongate £6.99)
I’m sure we all remember the international best seller – Fear of Flying, and Jong has followed this up by dealing with the last taboos of our generation: getting older, dying and dealing with the death of our parents. Flying dealt with sex, and the heroine’s search for the zipless f***. This deals with matters the same, but with a twist. It’s the same witty, wise and thought-provoking writing that had me entranced with all of her previous books and won’t disappoint her many, many fans. Our heroine, Vanessa is an actress married to a very wealthy man. Both her parents are dying, and her beloved dog dies as well. As if this wasn’t enough, her husband has a heart attack and she fears his death too. It all sounds terribly gloomy, but honestly, it’s not. It made me laugh and made me realise that others before me and after me will have to deal with these horribly difficult situations. The way that Vanessa deals with things is perhaps not for everyone – she advertises online for potential lovers, as since her husband’s illness he can’t make love. And Jong veers slightly into the grandiose belief in herself that only Americans who’ve spent a lifetime in therapy can do, but leaving that out of the equation, this is a great book. Questioning, brave and honest.
Not Quite Nice by Celia Imrie (Bloomsbury £7.85)
Oh joy. A beautifully written and well plotted romp of a book about the over 60s. Imrie has nailed it. It’s a damn good tale and fast-moving – I read it in one sitting. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and some intricate twists and turns in the plot. Theresa is desperate for a change. Forced into early retirement, tired of babysitting her bossy daughter’s obnoxious children, she sells her house and moves to a picture-perfect town, just outside Nice. Once the hideaway of artists and writers, Bellevue-Sur-Mer is now home to the odd movie star and, as Theresa discovers, a close-knit set of expats, where love and romance blooms. But life is never as simple as it seems, and when skeletons fall out of several closets, Theresa starts to wonder if life on the French Riviera is quite as nice as it first appeared. This book doesn’t pretend to be War and Peace and is all the better for it. A charming, funny romp of a book that made me want to move to the south of France immediately and join in the fun.
And for those of you who prefer your happy days with long walks and waggy tails …
Sleeping with Dogs by Brian Sewell (Quartet £12.50)
Dogs can be the best and most loyal of companions, and I never dismiss the emotion that they can provoke in the human heart. Sewell understood this. I still miss hearing his extraordinary voice on the radio. He was always entertaining and the suspicion I had was that he hammed up his voice for our delight. He was art critic extraordinaire an undoubted snob and a lover of dogs. Indeed, his dogs were not pets, but beloved friends and indulged guests. He rescues all manner of mutts, from one tied to railings of Kensington Gardens to a dog with a broken leg that he flies back from a holiday in Turkey. But he also has a whippet of noble breeding and series of cross breeds. Of course, with any book about animals, one has to brace oneself because their deaths come all too soon. But be brave and soldier on, this book is worth the tears. I know I couldn’t be without a dog in my life. Love comes in all forms, and sometimes love for a four legged friend beats the rest!