Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today's guest is British author Georgina Harding.
Georgina wrote The Solitude of Thomas Cave and The Spy Game, a BBC Book at Bedtime which was also shortlisted for the Encore Award. In 1988 she explored Romania by motorbike and wrote about it in her travel book, In Another Europe.
Her new novel, Painter of Silence — which I have read and reviewed — is an intimate and devastating portrait of Romania during and after the Second World War, through the prism of a moving and utterly original friendship.
She lives in London and the Stour Valley, Essex.
Without further ado, here's Georgina's Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
A favourite book: The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
The Ice Palace is set in the depths of a Norwegian winter, and is told with the clarity and austerity of the surrounding snow. It is so clear and plain — and so vivid — that anyone could read it. I think I gave it to my daughter to read when she was 12, and I’ve given it to a number of adults.
It’s about a friendship between two schoolgirls and what happens when one of them disappears. The past of the friendship, the continuing enigma of the lost girl, and the present search for her, are interwoven with an extraordinary tension within a frame which is that of the winter itself. The resolution can of course come only with the spring. And it’s so moving that it is hard to separate joy from pain.
A book that changed my life: The History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham
I had no idea this book would change my life when I read it. It’s a scholarly book by a Cambridge academic, but very accessible. Rackham tells how the English countryside has become the landscape we know, shaped by the way people have lived in it and cultivated it through history.
I found it unexpectedly fascinating to read, and hardly a week can have passed in the 15 years since when I have not thought of it, or had a thought that has been informed by it: when I walk in a wood and see old hazel coppices grown out of hand, or a bank cutting through that was once a parish boundary, or when I see the stump of a pollarded willow standing out in the landscape like a giant’s thumb, or find myself cycling down a lane that is a high-banked ‘hollow way’ with the hedgerows meeting above my head; or best of all, when we do winter work on our farm and restore hedgerows, and coppice and burn, and see how many species are in them and know how many centuries old they must be.
This book has given me a deeper sympathy with the countryside I live in — all the more so since that countryside is the Stour Valley, and Rackham takes many of his case studies from Essex because of the amount of ancient woodland and historic landscape that is preserved there. I think the old text version I read may be out of print and replaced by an abridged popular version with lots of glossy photographs. But who needs photographs when the landscape is all about you?
A book that deserves a wider audience: The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller
I know Müller won the Nobel Prize, but I hope people in England are reading her. I spent a month or two travelling in Romania in 1988, at the worst time under Ceausescu, and had just a passing insight into how it was to live there.
When I got this book I started to read the first few pages and then couldn’t bear to read any more. I felt so powerfully taken back into the atmosphere of that regime, which is conjured somehow beneath and around Müller’s words — not in any single phrase or image but in the accumulation of them, the juxtapositions, the strangeness, the gaps through which you fall in the reading.
I put the book away for some time and strengthened myself, and read it through later with the concentration and focus it deserves.
I have a Romanian friend who says his wife began the book with the same feelings as I had and never picked it up again. No need for her to be transported back into what she had known all too well. But for the rest of us I think it’s an important read as well as one of menacing beauty: we know a lot of the facts of how it is to live under a mad or totalitarian regime, but this book takes us beyond that, into how such a life affects the spirit.
Thanks, Georgina, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I'm deeply intrigued by all three books named here. Tarjei Vesaas, widely regarded as one of Norway's greatest writers, has been on my radar for awhile, but I've not quite known where to start, and The Ice Palace sounds like my cup of tea entirely. The History of the Countryside sounds like something I'd appreciate too — having grown up in Australia I don't quite "get" the British landscape, which always looks so neat and ordered to my southern hemisphere eyes, and this might help me to understand it a bit more.
As for Herta Müller, I tried reading The Passport a few years back but couldn't quite get past the first few pages and put it aside. The Land of Green Plums sounds tough, but I like reading about people who rise above the challenging circumstances of their existence, so this title has promptly gone on my wishlist.
What do you think of Georgina's choices? Have you read any of these books?