With new titles being issued by publishers on a constant basis, it’s often easy to overlook some of the wonderful older books that are still in print, modern classics and hidden gems that remain terrific reads today. With this in mind, I thought I would share a couple of my recommendations with you, books I’ve read recently that you might want to try for yourselves.
Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith
This is a first-rate book from the queen of the psychological novel, up there with The Talented Mr Ripley for me.
Vic and Melinda Van Allen have been married for around eight years. They live with their six-year-old daughter in a small American town where Vic is perceived as a pillar of the community; a kind, generous and mild-mannered man who runs a specialist publishing business.
The Van Allens’ relationship has been troubled for some years, a situation only exacerbated by Melinda’s persistence in carrying on with a sequence of hapless young men, often right under Vic’s nose. For years, Vic has been taking it on the chin, refusing to put his foot down to put a stop to his wife’s outrageous behaviour; but when Melinda arranges for her latest toy boy to provide the music at a neighbour’s party, things come to a dramatic head.
Once again, Highsmith encourages us to side with an outwardly respectable man who secretly harbours more sinister tendencies. The way she does this is so clever; she knows exactly how her readers are likely to react to each character, thereby creating a scenario where we feel sympathy for Vic and contempt for the woman who has made his life so difficult.
This novel gave rise to a very interesting discussion with my book group, especially as far as the two main players were concerned. It’s fascinating how such vivid and intriguing characters can give rise to some differences of opinion.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
If you’re missing the summer and looking to recapture those long, lazy days in the sun, Bonjour Tristesse might well be the book for you. It’s an irresistible story of love, desire and the games a young girl plays with other people’s emotions, all set against the backdrop of the blistering heat of the French Riviera.
Seventeen-year-old Cécile is spending the summer on the Cote d’Azur with her young-at-heart father, Raymond, and his latest lover, Elsa. For the past couple of years, Cécile has been living the high life with Raymond, accompanying him to parties and sharing his fondness for amusement and frivolity. Elsa fits into this set-up quite neatly for she is youthful, sweet and very easy-going.
At first, everything is leisurely and glorious. The three holidaymakers spend their days on the beach, swimming, relaxing and enjoying the sun. Nevertheless, it’s not long before this idyllic existence is disturbed.
Into the mix comes Anne, a beautiful, sophisticated woman – an old friend of the family and close to Raymond in terms of age. All too soon, Anne is in the ascendancy with Raymond, while Elsa begins to fade into the background. Moreover, Anne seems intent on introducing some structure and discipline into Cécile’s life, much to the dismay of the young girl herself. As a result, Cécile hatches a plan to deal with this interloper, one that will have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved.
This is another book where the characters may well divide opinions. Younger readers are likely to identify with Cécile while older readers might feel more sympathetic towards Anne. Either way, I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you’ve read it.