The books that writers and readers found enjoyable in November are being shared in our reading recommendations.
Katherine Rundell, author
I have been reading an exceptional and frightening novel titled “Fire Weather” by John Vaillant, which has recently been awarded the Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction. It tells the story of locals, lawmakers, and firefighters who are faced with a fire in Fort McMurray, Canada so intense that it triggers its own weather patterns such as lightning, hurricanes, and storms. It serves as a warning of what is to come: homes filled with flammable materials, and dry soil due to the effects of climate change. The book is unsettling, especially in light of the recent UN report stating that we are on track for a 2.9 degree global warming, but it is written with a fast pace, style, and a powerful clarity.
Katherine Rundell’s book, Impossible Creatures, has been chosen as the 2023 Waterstones Book of the Year.
Emily, Guardian reader
I recently finished reading the book “Big Swiss” by Jen Beagin. It is a comedic tale about Greta, an audio transcriber for a sex therapist, who develops a crush on one of her clients. This book is full of humor and I couldn’t stop reading it. It has multiple storylines, unexpected turns, and many moments that will make you burst out laughing.
John Self, critic
During my recent months of reading, I noticed a lack of exceptional new novels. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Mike McCormack’s This Plague of Souls. Considered a spiritual successor to his award-winning Solar Bones, the novel follows Nealon, a man recently released from prison, as he searches for his missing wife and son. While the plot twists, including a search for a bug and a national emergency, captured my attention, it was the peculiarities that have stuck with me. This book delves into the dynamics of societies, families, and individuals and how they come together and drift apart. It has been lingering in my thoughts since I completed it.
I recently had the pleasure of reading, and sometimes rereading, several of Iris Murdoch’s finest works. Her books are filled with lively and amusing antics, as well as characters who constantly find themselves entangled in love affairs. They are fast-paced and often humorous, but also intellectually stimulating. Murdoch herself once said, “Literature is enjoyable, literature entertains,” and she certainly lived up to that statement. If you have not yet read her work, I highly recommend starting with A Severed Head. Not only is it one of her shorter novels, but it also has a hilariously twisted plot where nearly every set of characters ends up involved with one another, as well as featuring a samurai sword and an unexpected delivery in a box. It seems fitting that Murdoch later adapted it into a comedy for the West End.
As the year comes to a close, there are fewer new book releases, allowing me to happily explore older titles. I have recently been enjoying the earlier works of Michael Frayn, who is most well-known for his later novels such as Headlong and Spies. To my surprise, I have discovered that not only is he consistently humorous, but also more diverse in his writing than I had anticipated. In Sweet Dreams, a man who dies in a car accident finds himself in heaven and is given the task of managing things on Earth, including designing the Alps. In The Trick of It, an academic unintentionally ends up marrying an author whose books he teaches. And in Towards the End of the Morning, a comedy about working in a newspaper office and how life unfolds when we least expect it. A somber thought: Perhaps I will read another book to distract myself from this idea.
Matilda, Guardian reader
I recently finished reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. The story takes place in Lagos, providing a refreshing escape from the chilly weather in the UK. While it has a dark humor and some morbid moments, the book stands out from typical crime thrillers. The writing is excellent and keeps readers engaged.