I was lucky enough to have ten days in Cornwall walking 100 miles of the wild North Atlantic coast from Padstow to Penzance in late July and early August and I made up for my lack of lockdown reading with four great birthday books. On the six hour train journey down to Bodmin it felt fitting to start by reading Daughters of Cornwall by Fern Britton, and I revelled in the escapism and the atmospheric writing of what was to come, as I got closer and closer to Cornwall. It’s a book written to a formula I always enjoy – an intergenerational tale of a family with secrets and a landscape that shapes their lives, and it also covers both the first and second world wars. It was a great read and I finished it off on my first night in Padstow and left it there for someone else to enjoy.
Next up was Normal People by Sally Rooney. I’ve not seen the TV series but kept seeing reviews of how great this novel was, and it absolutely did not disappoint. It’s the love story of two Irish teenagers, Marianne and Connell, who are destined to be both together and apart and who are struggling in different ways to find their way in the world. It is poignant and beautifully written, and the way Rooney writes about mental health, belonging, money, friendships, University and abusive relationships is gripping. I really couldn’t put it down, finally finishing it over dinner in a lovely restaurant overlooking the beach at Perranporth. I left it in my B&B and hope someone else is now enjoying it as much as I did.
I then went on to read Salt Lane by William Shaw, which my sister got me for my birthday. She is very good at knowing what I like and this pacey crime thriller with a female protagonist and evocative descriptions of coastal landscapes was just up my street. It deals with the murky underworld of gangmasters and abused illegal immigrants on the Kent coast, as well as the relationship between detective DS Alexandra Cupidi, her daugher and her mother. It left me wanting more, and I’ll definitely be reading the others in the series. This one stayed in Hayle for someone else to enjoy.
Finally, I read a book I’d been looking forward to for ages – A Long Petal of the Sea by one of my favourite authors, Isabelle Allende (see my blog on A Japanese Lover). This is a wonderful book, completely absorbing from page one, right to the end. It follows the lives of Victor Dalmau and Roser, the woman who later becomes his wife, through the Spanish Civil War and their escape into France, where they are lucky enough to be on the ship organised by poet Pablo Neruda to take refugees from the Spanish civil war to Chile. They settle happily in Chile, a country which welcomes the refugees with open arms, and they establish themselves, but they then have to go into exile again, this time in Venezuela, when the murderous dictator Pinochet comes to power. It is a beautiful book about love, history, politics and belonging, and its ending leaves you with a deep sense of satisfaction.