During term time I don’t have as much time for reading as I would like, but I made a conscious effort to read quite a bit over the Christmas holidays, and I still routinely have a bed on my bedside table. These are four books that I read over Christmas and the New Year…
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
This book follows Nathaniel, a young man who works as a telegraphist in the Home Office. Following a number of bomb threats from Irish nationalist, he miraculously escapes one of said bombings thanks to a watch that he found on his pillow months earlier. The watch leads him to a mysterious Japanese watchmaker, Keita Mori. Young scientist Grace Carrow also owns one of Mori’s watches, which leads to a connection between her and Nathaniel as they try to figure out who is behind the bombings.
This is a book that defies being put down to just one genre. It’s a little bit steampunk, a little bit historical fiction, with a dash of Sherlock Holmes mystery and Japanese poetic…ness. I’m always drawn to anything that takes place in Victorian London, but sadly I found it difficult to get into this book. Parts of it are absolutely lovely, and the premise is interesting, but it feels like it tries to be too many things at once. As soon as I was about to get into one bit of it, I was pulled away and thrown into another side-story. I would say it is worth a read, but it wasn’t a favourite.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure is a blind girl living with her father the keymaker in Paris. Werner is a German boy who lives with his sister at an orphanage and has a talent for fixing radios. With the war, their lives change drastically. Werner joins Hitler Youth, where his engineering skills catch the attention of those in charge. Marie-Laure and her father flee to a town by the sea, carrying a valuable, mysterious stone with them. The two children are connected, and every action leads to their meeting.
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. The narrative jumps between Marie-Laure and Werner, here and there from 1939 to 1944, using short chapters that are rarely more than two pages long. It might sound chaotic and tricky to get into, but it works. I found myself caring deeply about the characters and their fate, wanting to just keep reading and reading. The writing is stunning – it’s poetic without being over-the-top and uses metaphors and imagery in a captivating way. Most importantly, however, the story is deeply touching: it’s about human experience and the stories we don’t get to hear and it’s at once hopeful and tragic.
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Guylain Vignolles is miserable. He hates his job in a book pulping factory, and the only joy in life is the short train ride every morning during which he reads from the pages he has saved the day before. One day he finds the diary of a young woman called Julie, with whom he feels an instant connection, and he sets out to find her.
I read this in about a day. It’s a very nice, easy read – a lovely little book if you want something lighthearted to just escape reality for a while. It’s short and sweet, quirky and a little bit melancholy. The plot is simple and rather predictable, but it’s perhaps not the point. It’s a story about loneliness, a wish to connect with someone else and – most importantly, perhaps – it’s about a love of books and words. It didn’t leave a deep mark, and I doubt I’ll remember it clearly in a few years’ time, but it was enjoyable.
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
The story opens in 1815 in Brussels at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball the evening before the Battle of Waterloo. Fast forward to the 1840s, and the lives of those who attended the ball have changed drastically. The Trenchards have lost a daughter, and the Bellasis family have lost their son. Connecting these families is a big secret, which could have significant consequences if it were revealed.
When I saw that Belgravia was written by the creator of Downton Abbey, I knew I had to read it. The plot is intelligent and elegant, stylishly executed and a joy to read. There are real historical characters and events mixed up with made-up ones, which adds a nice touch to the book. Fellows is an excellent story-teller, and his portrayal of mid-19th century London is both vivid and realistic, especially with the depiction of the clash between nobility and ‘new money’. Although there were bits that were a tad stretched, all in all I thoroughly enjoyed reading Belgravia.
Have you read any of these books?