What We’re Reading: Kane, Magorian and deWitt

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films and TV shows we’re watching, and the music we’re listening to.


Alison Huber is reading Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane

Rules for Visiting came across my desk at just the right time, and I read it in two sittings this week. The narrator, May, is a solitary figure who lives with her aging father in the house she grew up in. She is botanist and gardener, usually happy with her introvert’s life, but is found at mid-life reflecting on what is tethering her in place. She decides she wants to visit old friends as a way of making sense of her past and present. It’s a gorgeously melancholic meditation on friendship and family life which gives a perspective that is familiar in its practicality and refreshingly unsentimental.

I loved the way it captured the odd and intense intersections we have with people at different times in our lives, and the power of lasting connections made with kindred spirits we find along the way, even if they are fractured by time and place. It is also populated with many interesting facts about plants and trees and some beautiful line drawings, which work as incredibly effective analogies and metaphors to the story. Such a lovely book!


Mike Shuttleworth is reading Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

I braced myself to read Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. Having read the first half while on holiday in February, I put it aside because I was finding it quite emotionally testing. First published in 1981, this is the story of a damaged child, Willie Beech, sent from London to the English countryside to escape Hitler’s bombs. In a rural village Willie is billeted with Tom Oakley, a withdrawn but tender-hearted old man. Magorian creates a vivid portrait of village life and of childhood friendships. We also get glimpses of the adult world – cruel, petty, stoic or kind – that young Willie is thrust into. But at the heart of the novel, and it’s a very big heart indeed, is the experience of an emotionally vulnerable child told with real tenderness. What a beautiful book it is.


Gabrielle Williams is reading French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Oh God, I’m loving this. I’m only about a third of the way through, but every turn of the page is a surprise and a delight and from what I hear, the mastery of the author continues all the way through to the end. In French Exit, the (previously) extremely wealthy, and (still) extremely beautiful Frances Price has just found out she’s flat broke. When the bank puts the lockbox on her apartment and her financial advisor tells her there’s nothing left, Frances and her son Malcolm (who’s old enough not to be following his mother around) board a cruise liner to Calais in order to take up residence at her friend’s apartment in Paris.

That’s where I’m up to at the moment. So far so simple. But the chaos, wit, whimsy and character that is bounding out of every page has me completely captivated. Why is it that the people you wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon with are such excellent company between the pages of a book? Like a mash up of Nancy Mitford and Graeme Greene’s Travels with My Aunt, this book is also strangely reminiscent of A Gentleman in Moscow (although people might disagree with me on that score). I can’t imagine anyone not adoring this book. A side note to all my friends and family – expect this for your birthday.