Talk about starting your literary career as you mean to go on: though Rosamund Lupton didn’t finish her first novel until 2010 – almost 25 years after graduating from Cambridge University and after years of working as a screenwriter – the result, Sister, wasn’t just a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller but the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author.
Each of Lupton’s three subsequent novels – Afterwards, The Quality of Silence and her latest, Three Hours, a captivating story of the timespan in which a Somerset school is gripped by the fear of gun violence during a blizzard – have all similarly enjoyed Sunday Times bestseller status, not to mention critical acclaim and notable book club picks.
To celebrate the paperback release of Three Hours, we asked Lupton to pick five books that held her rapt recently. Here, she waxes enthusiastically about Kate Atkinson, Hallie Rubenhold’s feminist retelling of Jack the Ripper’s atrocities, and more.
Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann (1932)
This story follows 17-year-old Olivia Curtis preparing for her first dance, alongside her older, more confident sister. Written in the 1930s, it could be dismissed as an exquisite period piece – there are dance cards and silk dresses – but the characters are so nuanced and the psychology of them so astute that it still feels relevant. The novel perfectly captures an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood, but for me Lehmann’s genius is her descriptions of the physical world, which are astonishingly vivid. This book is the prequel to a novel I read many years ago, The Weather in the Streets, and makes this story all the more poignant.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss (2020)
Summerwater is set in a Scottish cabin park on the banks of a loch, and follows different occupants from dawn until darkness, after days of unrelenting rain. A woman goes running, escaping more than the claustrophobic cabin; a teenage boy takes a kayak out onto the loch; a retired man reminisces. It is wonderfully immersive, with Moss enabling the reader to inhabit each of the character’s thoughts as much as they do the landscape. The novel also gives a microcosm of contemporary Britain. It is both a brutal and a delicately beautiful book.