A Town Like Alice

This week Miss Camsell recommendsas a good summer read.

A classic tale of hardship, torture and resilience, the plot revolves around Jean Paget, a 20 year old Brit working in Malaya during the Japanese invasion.

She is captured and joins a group of other European women and children and put under pressure to trek miles through the jungle with the other captives, leading to the death of many. Her courageous spirit and skills force her in to the role of leader for the prisoners. Whilst on the march, the group encounter Australian prisoners. They are helped and given food by a man named Joe Harman who is then punished by the Japanese as a result of his theft.

Paget’s story is narrated poignantly through her solicitor, Noel Strachan: his ordinary life serves as a stark contrast to Jean’s life. He is completely beguiled by Jean, and the framing narrative gives a bittersweet tang to the novel. I devoured this book on a plane journey and think it would be an excellent beach read for those of you going away this summer.

A Little Life

Mrs Larby recommends, ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara.

It’s the book I pulled out of the English Department bran tub last Christmas (thank you, Mrs Wilson-Head!) and one of the best books I have ever read.

In simple terms, it’s a story of the friendship of four young men who meet at university and then move to New York. However, it really centres on the character of Jude whose traumatic past is gradually revealed.

The novel is simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting; I feel it’s a book that every teacher should be made to read as Yanagihara really gets inside the skin of a damaged and vulnerable young person forcing you to not just understand the pain of the individual intellectually but to feel it from the inside.  It’s not an easy read in terms of the subject matter but I couldn’t put it down, driven by a mixture of hope and despair for the central character. She’s a remarkable writer and I found the book utterly compelling and beautifully written.

Thing Around Your Neck

This week’s book recommendation is from Ms Robert:

The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

It is a collection of 12 short stories, focusing mainly on the lives and experiences of Nigerian women – women caught up in political or religious violence, coping with displacement, loneliness and disappointment in their new lives or their new marriages, surviving tragedy. The women are generally middle class, intelligent but unconfident, and tend to be routed by more selfish and amoral characters.

As they are short stories, it is an easy choice to dip in and out of without losing the story line.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

This week’s book recommendation is from Miss Rodger.

A work of historical fiction, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ tells the story of Greet, a servant girl who goes to work in the household of the painter, Vermeer, and becomes the subject of his famous painting.

The simple yet beautifully crafted prose engages the reader in the day to day lives of the characters whilst subtly weaving the growing passion that Greet feels for her master. I read this book quickly and thought about it when I was not reading it – a good sign!


Ms Jobling recommends a short story by Understand_by_Ted_Chiang

I recently watched the film ‘Arrival’ (which I highly recommend) and discovered that it was based on the short story ‘Story of Your Life’ by sci-fi author Ted Chiang. I bought his collection of short stories and decided to start from the beginning and read the stories in order, rather than skipping straight to ‘Story of Your Life’.

Surprisingly, my favourite story in the collection was called ‘Understand’. It centres on Leon who, after drowning and ending up in a coma, undergoes experimental ‘hormone K therapy’. After waking up from the coma, doctors find that Leon’s damaged neurons are regenerated and that his intellectual capacity is dramatically increased.

After a short time, the CIA become interested in Leon and a government psychologist called Clausen begins doing tests on him. However, Leon realises that the authorities see him as a danger; he leaves the city and before long tracks down another hyper-intelligent man named Reynolds, who has also undergone the same therapy.

The narrative builds up to the meeting of the two characters and the psychological battle they engage in…

I won’t give away the ending, but must say I found it totally mind-blowing and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different to read – you can even borrow it from me!


regenThis week Miss Roberts recommends ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker:
I came across it as a wider reading text when I was doing A-Level Literature, and return to it regularly over 10 years later.

Regeneration is the first book in a trilogy, depicting the often shocking reality of WWI – but a unusually for this genre through the eyes of those casualties who exist away from the battlefield. This is no Birdsong!

Throughout the novel, (based on some real events) we follow the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, among others, at the Craiglockhart hospital during 1917. Not only does Barker poignantly explore the harrowing after effects of experiencing the Great War first hand, she offers insight into the lesser known impacts or events that happened. It’s really the psychologist W.H.R. Rivers who is the centre of the story, and through his experiences readers are swept along in an intriguing, and at times intense, period of exploration of the casualties of war, beyond just physical injury.

I love this book. It’s multi-layered, at times heartbreaking, but absolutely compelling!!

The Winter of Our Discontent

Winter_discontentThis week, Mr Wallwork recommends ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’ by John Steinbeck.

Believe it or not I read this book knowing nothing of the author. We didn’t have many books at home when I was growing up so I was happy to read anything I was given. So it came about that through the simple act of enjoying a story, I discovered that Steinbeck was a classic writer before I knew he was a writer of classics.

It is set in late 50’s early 60’s New England America. Ethan Allen Hawley, whose family trace their roots back to the Pilgrim Fathers,  works as a clerk in the grocery store he used to own and although at first he seems adjusted to this reversal of fortune he ends up planning a wild ‘escape’.  Simple honesty is shown to be at heart anything but simple.  Steinbeck uses this examination of culture and values by a ‘good’ man to force us to look into the same mirror.

The emotional pull of this tale makes it in my heretical eyes better than OMAM and with another fabulous quotation as a title what’s not to like?


bookThis week, Mr Short recommends ‘Wedlock’ by Wendy Moore.

It is a fascinating true story which an insight into Georgian England. The events detailed in the book were massive news at the time and what I find most interesting is its links to the North East and particularly Bowes Museum.

My Cousin Rachel

18869970This week, Miss Camsell recommends ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne DuMaurier.

A psychological thriller, the novel is set in 19th Century Cornwall and in Florence and is told from the perspective of Philip Ashley who forms an obsession with his cousin’s widow, Rachel. The ambiguous characters and narrative make this a gripping read: Rachel’s behaviour is open to interpretation as is Philip’s reliability as a narrator.

This is an easy to read but difficult to put down sort of novel and leaves readers with something to ponder post-reading. It’s also due to be released as a film later this year (starring Sam Claflin and Rachel Weiss) and it’ll be interesting to see how it translates on the big screen!

The Unmumsy Mum

Unmumsy-Mum-Book-ReviewBook of the week is recommended by Ms Johnson who advises us to read ‘The Unmumsey Mum’ By Sarah Turner:

The book is a window to a particular life stage. At times it is laugh out loud funny, crushingly accurate and emotionally uplifting. Charting the ups and downs of parenting a young family in this crazy, modern world. Reading the book is like going for a coffee with your closest friend – it is therapy in a pink cover!