Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier
I read Le Grand Meaulnes sitting in exactly the France profonde in which Alain-Fournier’s 1913 coming-of-age novel is set. It’s part fable, part love story (the greatest ever?), part requiem-in-advance for lost idealism – the author himself was killed in the Great War. And it is wholly fabulous. I think ‘Classic’ is bandied about too easily, but Le Grand Meaulnes is worthy of the word.
Under Occupation by Alan Furst
My thriller loyalty lies with Furst’s spy stories set in Europe in the thirties and forties. In Furst’s latest, the Resistance plot turns efficiently, but the real genius lies in his faultless evocation of period Paris. Furst by name, first by acclaim.
Complete Works by John Clare
Clare, the ‘peasant poet’, was the tribune of the English countryside: through him, nature spoke. I love, with the adoration of a disciple, Clare’s tender words towards his fellow creatures. More, in his verses, you can see the countryside how it once was – nature-rich. Clare’s poems are route maps – not to the past, but to the future.
A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin
‘What did you do in the war, Mummy?’ Won it, is the answer. Parkin’s history of the Battle of the Atlantic focuses new, original light on ‘the backroom girls’ of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, who found clever ways to protect counter-Allied convoys from the U-boat menace. In an ‘Up Yours, Hitler’ gesture, the WATU team christened their best tactic of evasion ‘Raspberry’. A salute to them.
Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson
The Scandinavian author’s account of beetles, bugs and creepy-crawlies – ‘the ones who run our world’ – bit me, and would not let go. It is revelatory, it is fascinating, and it is easy on the page. More importantly, it has made me look at insects with appreciation... even Scutigera coleoptrata, the centipede with whom we share our house.
John Lewis-Stempel’s latest book, The Private Life of the Hare, is out now.