Holiday reading recommendations

What’s a summer holiday without a good summer reading list – Rebecca Wallersteiner recommends some exciting new titles to cram into your suitcase:

Summer holidays are upon us and an abundance of compelling newly published books to choose from. From When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut, a non-fiction novel meditating on how far physicists, such as Einstein were to blame for the horrors of 20th century warfare; to Susie Boyt’s Loved and Missed about the effects of addiction on a family; to the late professor Anthony Barrington Kay’s colourful memoir exploring his double life at home and at school. To Man on Fire, BBC world news presenter Humphrey Hawkley’s latest crackling novel about a female trauma surgeon caught up in the world of international espionage. Even if you are not travelling abroad this summer, Mary Montague’s The Turkish Embassy Letters republished by Eland, will transport you to the orient.

In his blackly funny, dramatized memoir, ‘Whatever Happened to Barry Chambers?’ written after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and published shortly before he died last year, professor Anthony Barrington (‘Barry’) Kay vividly explored his unusual start in life and how facing a double life in school and at home, he swung between his lives as Barry Chambers, a confirmed Anglican at school, and Barry Kay, a Jewish boy at home during the school holidays in London. “A loveable rogue” his stepfather was imprisoned for selling stolen radios. Professor Kay decided to write his memoir after finding his mother’s diaries about her early married life after she died. He explained, “I felt compelled to release my pent-up emotions of childhood by telling my own story. Getting it all out has been a welcome release, although laying bare so many private and shocking memories has not been easy.” Professor Kay and his team at Imperial College, London were the first to unequivocally establish the Th2 T lymphocyte hypothesis for bronchial asthma in both atopic and nonatopic forms of the disease, which transformed the management of severe steroid-dependent asthma. Kay’s memoir is fascinating reading.

Susie Boyt’s Loved and Missed published by Virago on 26th August is a bleak and powerful account of a daughter lost in the fog of addiction. Formerly pretty Eleanor has become ‘spindly and evasive’ and looks ‘ripe for pneumonia’. Her mother Ruth, a teacher, fears for baby grand-daughter Lily’s well-being. Eleanor’s once ordered house is ‘riddled with stains’ and squalid’ clumps of bin bags’ – ‘a stage-set of dereliction.’ Told with a quiet power, this

insightful book is a sensitive study of the inner corrosion and disappointments of love caused by drugs. Highly recommended to readers who are dealing with fractured family relationships, or with patients, or loved ones with addiction problems. A chilling read.

From When we Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut, a non-fiction novel is a meditation on how far scientists, such as Albert Einstein were to blame for the horrors of 20th century warfare. ‘God does not play dice with the world’, Einstein famously said. The atoms that pulverised Hiroshima and Nagasaki were split not by a military dictator, but by brilliant physicists. It certainly makes you think!

On a lighter note, the late Dr David Anton’s Adventures with Hugo is a lively read about a ‘hopelessly food-addicted’ talking Labrador called Hugo, who grew up in Bermondsey near a biscuit factory, using the dog’s insatiable hunger as a metaphor for a humorous take on addiction in general. Hugo is revealed as the mastermind behind some of the most infamous food crimes of London. Anton’s own ever-hungry Labrador was the inspiration for this captivating book exploring the emotional problems behind addiction. For many years, Anton was the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s consultant occupational physician, who investigated multiple high profile aeroplane crashes, including the Kegworth air disaster in 1989, when a British Midland Boeing 737 carrying 126 passengers and crew missed the runway and crashed onto the M1 motorway killing 47 people, and severely injuring 74. Another multi-faceted and multi-talented physician.

One of the first modern travel writers, (and still one of the best) Mary Montague (1689-1762) was a self-educated intellectual, a free spirit, a radical, a feminist, but also an entitled aristocrat, with powerful friends at court. Today she is chiefly remembered for her letters from her two years residence in the Ottoman Empire and for introducing smallpox inoculation in Britain, after her return from Turkey. Eland Classics have re-published Mary’s The Turkish Embassy Letters with a splendidly revealing biographical essay by Dervla Murphy and some historical notes to help you slip back into the political and social gossip of the eighteen century. Even if you are not travelling abroad this summer, this book will transport you to the time when Europe still looked to the Orient as an example.

Former BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley’s latest fast-paced espionage thriller Man on Fire will have you gripping the end of your deckchair. The main character, Rake Ozenna, a native Alaskan, who is a Major in the Special Forces finds himself caught up in a serious diplomatic incident between Russia and the US, on the remote border of the two countries. Is this the beginning of World War Three, or will Captain Ozenna and his friend trauma surgeon Carrie Walker be able to save the world from destruction? A taut, unsettling and twisting read, with intriguing characters and an exciting plot. Although not usually a fan of the political thriller genre, I enjoyed the book.

Good luck with trying to squeeze all these fascinating books into your suitcase.

When we Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut published by Pushkin Press, in hardback, 2020. Priced at £14.99p

Whatever happened to Barry Chambers, by Professor Barry Kay (1944-1963) published by Book Guild Publishing, £10.99p, paperback and available on Amazon

Loved and Missed by Susie Boyt, published in hardback on 26th August ’21 by Virago, priced at £16.99p

The Turkish Embassy Letters by Mary Wortley Montagu published by Eland Classics, 15th July ’21, priced at £12.99p paperback

Adventures with Hugo: A Lighter Look at the Darker Side of Addiction, published by Bigwood Press, 2018, by David Anton

Man on Fire by Humphrey Hawksley published by Severn House Publishers, July ‘21

Rebecca Wallersteiner
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