A recent Twitter request from Sam Eades (publicist at Pan MacMillan, and yes that is Jo Nesbo with her in her avatar) said this:
Book recommendation! Suggestions of books like I Capture the Castle/Campari For Breakfast/Lost art of keeping secrets please
— SamEades(@SamEades) August 31, 2014
I answered her on Twitter, but I also thought it was a good list topic. We all know the kinds of books she means, although it is difficult to define them. You have to imagine a day when you don’t feel like reading Tolstoy, and the new novels seem dreary and same-y. You need cheering up, but you don’t want to read something soppy-stupid. And it has to be a guaranteed, no-fail book. It has to be well-written, and the kind of book that will be just as satisfying when you read it for the tenth time,10 years down the line.
Some of the best ones, the ones Sam mentions, are in an even more specialized genre. It’s difficult to give them a title: Young women growing up in amusing circumstances, and how they achieve what they want in life – well, it’s not exactly short and catchy is it? But the good news is, there are a few of them out there. This is my list of books like that - the original delight, and ten more to go with it. Please add to the list in the comments:
1) Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle. Entrancing, careful, beautifully done. A book to read over and over. As I have said before, you start out reading it at Cassandra’s age, and eventually realize that you have long ago passed Topaz in age, indeed you’re probably more like Mrs Cotton, or even Great Aunt Millicent. And still the book speaks to you…
|Topaz in her Angel of Death dress|
Smith’s The Town in Bloom is another good example.
2) Nancy Mitford – Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, Don’t Tell Alfred. Funny, clever, detailed, the real thing. Of course Nancy Mitford really was a deb and an Hon, unlike many of the writers of such books.
3) The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – a Paris-set Catcher in the Rye for girls, with the wonderful Sally Jay Gorce and her attempts to live the life Bohemian and miss nothing.
4) Margaret Kennedy: The enduring appeal of The Constant Nymph gave us a study subject recently. Tessa is no cheery Cassandra or Fanny or Linda (more like Polly) but the book will continue to be read by teenage girls for as long as they eye up older men. And Kennedy's book Lucy Carmichael is also something of a treat.
5) Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe – a new addition to the genre, and a really splendid effort. Hoping for more from her. Blog entry here.
6) Stella Gibbons Westwood. Hilarious bit of social climbing, somewhere between Barbara Pym and Daphne du Maurier. And also Flora Poste of Cold Comfort Farm – well it’s a crumbling building, she is young and lovely, and she sorts everyone out in the most satisfying manner.
7) Anita Loos Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Endlessly amusing and entertaining – gold-diggers on the make in Paris and New York
8) Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding. She’ll live forever.
9) An Education by Lynn Barber – even though it’s a true story.
10) Hilary McKay’s series of YA books about the Casson Family (beginning with Saffy’s Angel, here on the blog) fall very much into this category, in a weird kind of way: Caddy, the oldest child, is of an age to do A Levels and fall in love, though in fact she is not the true focus of the books, her younger siblings are. The eccentric and Bohemian family with some secrets and surprises should be all kinds of annoying, but actually these books are wonderful, and you would have to have a heart of stone to resist them: they live on in your mind like the best book characters do.
11) Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit. If you’ve only read Poirot or Marple, this 1924 book might come as a surprise. Anne Beddingfeld, penniless orphan, sets out to find adventure, succeeds, and meets Mr Right along the way. It’s very clever and very funny.
Now I want to re-read all of those. Please expand the list below if you have any great suggestions of similar books....
For Wendy, who loves books like this, on her birthday.