On my twice daily hour-long commute on the train into and out of London, it is very rare for a fellow passenger to strike up conversation based on the book that they see you reading. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I read Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It is a brilliant little book, explaining first-hand what it feels like and what it is like to have anxiety and depression. Somehow Matt Haig has managed to write a book that both explains depression and anxiety to those who have never experienced it, in a way that begins to open up an understanding of how disorienting and frightening it is, whilst also speaking to and giving hope to those going through it themselves. My fellow passenger explained that the latter is exactly what it had done for his 22 year old daughter, who has depression and who has been trying a variety of different treatments.
Through telling his own story of the warning signs of anxiety and depression in childhood, through to the most difficult period of his life in his mid twenties, and beyond to his life now with his wife and own children, Haig has a message of hope that whilst it may never go away, it can get better. Haig describes the courage it took to write this book and I am so glad he did. It feels like a very important part of the growing public conversation about mental health and a book that will reach very many people and do a great deal of good.
My sister bought me Katherine by Anya Seton for my birthday and I very much enjoyed reading it whilst walking in Somerset and Devon in late September. It is a brilliant historical novel about the woman who eventually became the Duchess of Lancaster, the third wife of John of Gaunt, and who was the mother of the Beauforts, the direct ancestors of the Tudor dynasty (and in the case of Henry Beaufort, the person who my comprehensive school was named after).
It is a novel that was written in 1954 but which feels very modern indeed. Katherine comes across as a strong woman, making the best of her position in the world, from her upbringing in a convent in Kent to her first marriage to Hugh Swynford, to the many years when she was the lover of the Duke of Lancaster, whilst he was married to his second wide, Constance of Castile. Her rise, fall, and rise again are grippingly told. The characterisation is great and it gives you a real sense of what it was like to occupy the royal palaces of the 1300s. It is definitely one of the best pieces of historical fiction that I have read in a long time and is one I’d highly recommend.