The writer James MacManus chooses six books that he turns to in times of stress. His latest historical fiction novel Midnight in Berlin is due to be published in the UK in January 2016 by Duckworth Overlook and in the US in the April that year.
Love Lessons by Joan Wyndham
The first of a trilogy in which a well born young girl comes of age losing her virginity and finding a lust for life in wartime London. Sex, rationing and drinking home made gin – all wrapped up in the diary of life in bohemian Chelsea when the bombs were falling and people and houses vanished overnight in smoke and rubble. Brilliant autobiography of a warm and witty survivor.
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Faster and sharper than The Longo Goodbye this is California noir at its sleazy best. The dark side of the LA dream unfolds with whiplash one liners, well stacked blondes and bullet riddled bodies .The sense of time and place is captivating but it’s the dialogue that makes this so powerful.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
You can almost smell the salt tang of the Essex marshes in the opening chapter. If you want your children to fall for Dickens’ exuberant language show them David Lean’s film and then them watch them feast on the book. And they will.
Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire.
The greatest French poet and the first modern poet in any language. Baudelaire dedicated his work to his mistress Jeanne Duval, a mulatto drug addict who cared nothing for his writing and stole him blind. But she couldn’t take the poetry away. When the French authorities damned him for obscenity the poet had his answer: “Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère”. Read in a bilingual book.
The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat
Those who served in destroyers or corvettes during the war, my father among them, recognised the chilling accuracy of this account of the Battle of the Atlantic. Nicholas Monsarrat, who spent the war in Corvettes, spices his saga of the deadly convoys with detail that Chandler would admire: the slug of sherry in cocoa on the bridge, the frozen duffel coat toggles, and the oil slicked bodies being hauled aboard after another sinking.
Lord Emsworth and others by P.G Wodehouse
At the height of the civil war in Lebanon when tracer fire was fizzing down Hamra street I would cower in the Commodore Hotel and let Wodehouse take me on a magic carpet back to England between the wars. The Jeeves books repeat themselves too much. I prefer Lord Emsworth. This collection of stories contains Crime Wave at Blandings, PGW at his best.