As part of our Read by Redwood series, we talked to Senior Consultant Stel about his favourite authors and what’s on his lockdown list…
What book could you not put down recently?
Lockdown has seen a huge rise in the number of books by my bed, many more read than unread (which was definitely not the case before). It’s also seen a far greater diversity of titles. The best of times (if a sometimes harrowing read) recently was probably Jeanine Cummins’ ‘American Dirt’, the story of a Mexican woman and her young son trying to escape (alongside hundreds of economic migrants from Central America) to the US after narrowly avoiding being murdered at the hands of a drugs cartel which wipes out all other innocent family members in a single strike. Also, Naosie Dolan’s wickedly amusing debut, ‘Exciting Times’ which focuses on Ava, a young Dubliner working in Hong Kong and her gender-switching relationships with, firstly Julian and then Edith, accompanied by heaps of self-obsessive, laugh-out-loud angst. Finally, Hadley Freeman’s ‘House of Glass’ a very moving piece of non-fiction about the fortunes of a Jewish family displaced by war and their remarkable ability to reinvent themselves and survive some of the most horrific events of the twentieth century.
The worst of times (despite the fact I stuck with it to the bitter end) was Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’, a campy, bitchy and frankly downright weird novel about a second-rate writer who tries to steal the limelight as the assumed biographer of a late, supposed ‘friend’.
Back to the best. I’ve really enjoyed Hilary Mantel’s majestic ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ and I’m currently reading her third novel in the breath-taking and meticulously-crafted Thomas Cromwell trilogy, ‘The Mirror and the Light’. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, other recent reads I would recommend are Ada Louise Huxtable’s biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, the man who designed the Guggenheim in New York while already in his 80s and a compelling thriller in utter architectural arrogance; ‘Olga’ by Bernhard Schlink; and ‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett. Anything by Ann Patchett.
If you could ask the author anything, what would it be?
One of my favourite books of all times (which I re-read last year) is Kazuo Ishiguro’s perfect study in emotional restraint, ‘The Remains of the Day’. I went to an event several years ago at which Ishiguro was the guest speaker and asked him why he hadn’t made the character of Stevens, the butler, more curious to know about things that did not fall into his domain. I can’t remember his answer; I was just glad to have been able to ask him a question. His monumental ‘The Unconsoled’ is also a pretty astonishing literary achievement if you have the time.
What is on your ‘to read’ list?
‘Klara and the Sun’, Ishiguro’s latest novel. ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell.