As always, the holiday season brings an embarrassment of riches as far as new books are concerned. I have three fantastic books to review this issue – two non-fiction and one novel; you are sure to find something to enjoy in one of them.
Early November is the release date of Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter. Fraser, best known as a biographer (especially of Mary Queen of Scots), turns her eagle eye on her life and her long relationship with playwright Harold Pinter, which ended with his death in 2008. It had started more than 33 years before, when she went to bid Pinter farewell at a dinner party, and he asked, "Must you go?" Throwing caution to the wind, she stayed, and they spent the rest of the night talking. She was 42, married with six children; he was 44, unhappily married with one child, yet less than a year later they were living together and were married as soon as they were able. Fraser’s descriptions of their bond, her loving reminiscences of the love poems Harold wrote for her, and their struggles through his final illness are beautifully written. Also fascinating are her descriptions of Pinter’s plays, writing style and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the staging of his work. Their love story is laced with humor and full of surprise guest appearances by famous people such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Jackie Onassis. This testimonial to true love is a must-read for every romantic – don’t miss it.
If you enjoyed Seabiscuit, you have another treat in store with Laura Hillenbrand’s new book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. As with Seabiscuit, the author plucks a formerly-famous-now-lost-to-obscurity incident from history and writes an amazing book about it, illuminating not only the central characters, but their colorful cohorts and the milieu in which they lived. In this case, our hero is Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent who turned his life around by taking up running and getting good enough to run in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But while he is training for the next Olympics, World War II breaks out and he joins the Air Force instead. In 1943, the unthinkable happens – his bomber crashes into the Pacific, and he and two fellow airmen are stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean. When rescue comes, it is the Japanese that save them from death at sea, only to make them POW’s for the duration of the war. Laura Hillenbrand’s eye for telling detail and her extraordinary narrative voice make this piece of history read like a novel. Even if you have no particular interest in World War II, this is an engrossing story. If you give it to your favorite military buff for the holidays, make sure you borrow it back and read it yourself!
Kate Morton’s, The Forgotten Garden, has been on my must-read list for ages, so when I got a copy of her new novel, The Distant Hours, I decided to read that instead. In a word – WOW! I can see why she is so popular. When a long-lost letter makes it to its intended recipient after a 50-year detour, Edie Burchill wonders what was in it that caused her usually stoic mother to burst into tears after opening it. Thus begins the mystery. Edie travels to the estate where her mother was evacuated during the war to visit the Blythe sisters to find out why it was so important to her mother. When she gets there, she finds the elderly twin sisters taking care of their younger, possibly mentally ill, sister. Why are they so isolated? Why do they seem trapped? And whatever happened to the nice young man who was supposed to visit little sister Juniper 50 years ago, but never showed up? Thrills and chills in a small English village – delightful!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.