One of the great things about being away in paradise and taking some time off work is that I have had a lot of time to read. Plus, there is the most wonderful bookstore on the island (dangerous but delightful for a bibliophile). Rather coincidentally, considering I am (mostly) on a writing retreat, I happened to pick up two books (fiction) that have books as a central theme. And both were utterly marvellous.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
In this debut novel, Swyler weaves a story of three families across time, connected by a mysterious book, travelling circuses, mermaids, and an out of work librarian. It’s intriguing and well written, with an eerie undercurrent. The novel pulls throughout it a thread of what it means to be connected to people – by blood, habit, mutual need, genetics – and how we’re bound to our family histories and myths. It includes some great characters and imaginative writing, with water a recurring and dangerous force throughout. It’s well worth a read, especially if you believe in the power of story telling and how it can shape who we are.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (original German title: Das Lavendelzimmer)
I loved, loved, loved this book. It was less disturbing than The Book of Speculation, but more deeply moving. And I think I enjoyed it so much because it took me by surprise just how intense its emotional landscape turns out to be and how George acknowledges some of the tropes she is employing. As an obvious book lover, she is able to convey this love, without getting preachy, and while acknowledging the challenges of being a writer, as well as a reader. The book centres around a “book apothecary” and his journey from healing others to healing himself. It is, in many ways, an homage to great books and how they can heal and change people. It has some great characters, humour, emotional depth, and even some recipes. Definite medicine for the soul.