As lockdown began to ease my desire to read returned and I dove into three escapist thrillers. The first was A Perfect Spy by John Le Carre. I chose to read this as some of it is set in Graz in Austria after the second world war and my grandfather was a circuit judge in the military government of Austria in the district of Styria, which includes Graz, from May 1945 to April 1947. I have some photos of him there from the time and want to go and visit at some point, and so a novel set in the same place and era was appealing. However, I found A Perfect Spy pretty confusing to be honest. It perhaps wasn’t the easiest structure to contend with after a few months of not reading that much, and as the life of Magnus Pym jumped forward and backward from his childhood with a narcissistic, criminal father, to his various loves, and his experiences spying in various parts of Europe and America, I was usually left lost and confused. By the end I wasn’t sure I cared whether he had betrayed his country or not, and the section in Graz turned out to be rather fleeting. It won’t put me off Le Carre though. I absolutely loved reading The Constant Gardener a few years ago and have enjoyed many films and TV series based on his books.
As lockdown finally ended, I treated myself to bestseller The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, which reviews told me was a gripping read, and they weren’t wrong. This was enjoyable, page-turning escapism that reminded me how much I’d missed reading. The feeling of racing through a book that didn’t ask anything of me and was straightforward, well paced and plotted, with a brilliant twist at the end, was just what I needed, as life post-lockdown suddenly started to speed up. I was intrigued by whether, and, if so why, Alicia Berenson had killed her husband and why she was refusing to speak. The life of Theo Faber, a forensic psychotherapist, was equally interesting, and I enjoyed following as he tried to find out what had really happened, whilst making a number of very dubious decisions about his work and his own partner along the way. This would be a good book for holiday reading.
Finally, on my first expedition to an actual bookshop on the first weekend of July, I felt it was fitting to buy Lockdown by Peter May – hyped as the novel that predicted Coronavirus. This would definitely not have been a book to read during lockdown itself, but as the Foreword by the author says, its worth reading to remind yourself that things could be much, much worse. This is an awful dystopian view of London in the grip of a virus, where so many are dying that Battersea Power Station has been turned into a giant morgue and incinerator and where there are no happy endings for anyone who contracts the virus. As policeman MacNeil races around the empty and army-controlled streets of London trying to catch a killer during his last days on the Force, he deals with personal tragedy, his loved ones being in jeopardy and the pointlessness of carrying on. His determination to find who dismembered a young girl and why takes him to a final resolution, albeit it a grim one. This is not for the faint-hearted.