BLITZ SPIRIT by Becky Brown (Hodder £10.99, 320pp)


by Becky Brown (Hodder £10.99, 320pp) 

History offers us a bird’s-eye view of events, presenting change and conflict as though they were a coherent story. But for people living through such events, nothing about them is coherent: life unfolds apparently at random. 

In 1937, the Mass Observation project asked ordinary people to keep diaries of their everyday experiences, recording the raw material of history. 

Blitz Spirit is a fascinating selection from the anonymous diaries kept during the war years by people struggling with rationing, the dread of bombing and invasion. 

Alongside grumbles about politicians and fantasies of post-war life are beady observations of the unpatriotic behaviour of neighbours, including a snobbish couple who refused to plant potatoes on their grass tennis court ‘as it would look so bad from the windows’. 


by Joy Williams (Tuskar Rock £8.99, 224 pp) 

Many parents believe that their children are destined to be extraordinary, but Khristen, the narrator of Joy Williams’s latest novel, has grown up in the shadow of her mother’s conviction that, as a baby, she died and came back from the dead: ‘She was so convinced that it was difficult for her to experience me as a living child.’ Initially home-schooled by a tutor, who tells her that we all lead three lives — ‘The true one, the false one, and the one we are not aware of’ — Khristen is then sent to an eccentric boarding school, and when that closes, she emerges into a world in which the environment and society are disintegrating. 

William’s strangely beautiful and grimly funny dystopia is an eloquent warning of the fragility of our world, and the perils that lie hidden within the life we are not aware of.

THESE PRECIOUS DAYS by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury £9.99, 336pp)


by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury £9.99, 336pp) 

‘Essays reminded me that I was still a writer when I wasn’t writing a novel,’ Ann Patchett states in the introduction to her latest collection. 

It’s surprising that the best-selling author of Bel Canto and The Dutch House should need reminding of this, but the essays in this volume explore many of the themes that she treats in her fiction: family, friendship, love, grief and loss. 

All these elements come together in the title essay, a chronicle of a late-blooming friendship between Patchett and Sooki, an artist who worked as Tom Hanks’s assistant. Patchett is a wonderful observer — ‘How other people live is pretty much all I think about,’ she writes. But her eye for detail is combined with wit, warmth and a bracing fierceness. The result is a collection that is entertaining, consoling and entirely uplifting. 

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