Top 10 reads for the summer

Richard Fitzpatrick selects an eclectic mix of summer reading options

THE NOISE OF TIME

Julian Barnes

The Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes is on fine form with his short novel The Noise of Time, which fictionalises the troubled times of the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

His battles of conscience, trying to plot a course under the yoke of communist tyranny by compromising his artistic integrity, are gripping, while Joseph Stalin, who was derided by Vladimir Lenin for his “rudeness”, provides the comic relief.

THUS BAD BEGINS

Javier Marías

The thirteenth novel by Javier Marías, who is often touted as a Nobel laureate, is a wonderful, sprawling read.

Eduardo, a successful Spanish film director is unhappily married to a loving, voluptuous woman, which is a mystery to Eduardo’s 23-year-old valet, one of several that are carefully unpicked over 500 pages, which includes reflections on the Spanish Civil War and its legacy as well as a walk-on part for the Hollywood star Jack Palance.

HITLER: VOLUME 1: ASCENT 1889-1939

Volker Ullrich

Volker Ullrich’s biography of Adolf Hitler, which remarkably is only the third since the dictator’s death, was an instant bestseller in Germany.

It focuses on the personality of the man.

It debunks myths (his rabid anti-Semitism, for example, matured later in life than we presume), and paints a picture of an insecure man, who led a bachelor-style lifestyle, including a weakness for junk food and getting up late.

THE GLORIOUS HERESIES

Lisa McInerney

Although it was published last year, Lisa McInerney’s novel from “the arse end of Ireland” has come of age this year, scooping several notable literary prizes, including the prestigious Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Set in present-day Cork, the plot involves haphazard murder, drugs, drunken dads and girls “who would get dolled up for the opening of an eye”.

FRANCIS: POPE OF GOOD PROMISE

Jimmy Burns

As a former foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and a prize-winning author, Jimmy Burns is the ideal man to unravel some of Papa Francisco’s contradictions.

The research, as is the case with his other books, is exhaustive, but the real strength of this work is his persuasive analysis of Pope Francis’s motivations, chiefly his Jesuitism and the effect compromises he made during Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ in the 1970s have had on his thinking.

AT AN EXISTENTIAL CAFÉ: FREEDOM, BEING, AND APRICOT COCKTAILS

Sarah Bakewell

John Banville is a fan of Sarah Bakewell’s dive into the history of existentialism.

It’s a thought-provoking account (ideal for lazy deliberation by the poolside) on how to live and how to be free, with interesting insights on how the post-war Parisian philosophy school — made famous by Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre — inspired the hipster movement that revolutionised American culture in the 1950s and ’60s.

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SOLAR BONES

Mike McCormack

The guts of 20 years after his acclaimed collection, Getting It In The Head, Mike McCormack has shifted up another gear with his latest novel, Solar Bones, a grand ride through the life of Marcus Conway, a civil engineer during Ireland’s recent property boom, and the vagaries of life in Louisburgh, Co Mayo with his sick wife and their two bright, irreverent grown-up children.

SIX FOUR

Hideo Yokoyama

Hideo Yokoyama’s crime fiction book sold at an astonishing clip when it came out in Japan — a million copies in six days.

Its labyrinthine plot hinges on the cold case from 1989 of a murder of a seven-year-old girl in Tokyo, which unhinges the chief investigator who is troubled by the recent disappearance of his own young daughter.

BLACK FLAGS: THE RISE OF ISIS

Joby Warrick

Joby Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist with the Washington Post, has written a brilliant, captivating account of the origins and motivations of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the man who created the entity we know as ISIS.

Warrick focuses on several peripheral characters to drive the narrative along, although it is the portrayal of Zarqawi, who grew up on Jordanian mean streets of drugs, prostitution and fighting, which enthrals. Possibly the book of the year.

SPQR: A HISTORY OF ANCIENT ROME

Mary Beard

The popular TV historian and Cambridge classics don Mary Beard has written an immensely readable account of Ancient Rome’s thousand-year reign, including eye-popping portraits of the characters who dominated the period, including Nero, Julius Caesar, the fascinating orator Cicero, Cleopatra and Hannibal.

What lingers in particular are the Ancient Romans’ lifestyles — the lack of hygiene, the depraved sex and their callousness where dead babies used to be discarded on rubbish slacks.

From the Vaults: Five Essential Beach Reads

WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?

Budd Schulberg

Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel about an ambitious, talented huckster on the make in the newspapers of New York and the film studios of Los Angeles is a mesmerising read.

It will transport you back to America’s jazz-fuelled golden age by a 25-year-old novelist who became a doyen of boxing writers, scooped an Oscar for writing the screenplay for On the Waterfront and once famously brawled with John Wayne.

DEATH AND NIGHTINGALES

Eugene McCabe

Set on an estate in Fermanagh in 1883, Eugene McCabe’s novel about a young couple — Beth, a Protestant landlord’s daughter, and Billy, a Catholic tenant — hatching a plot to elope to America is a masterpiece.

It reads like a thriller, as it weaves in Dublin Castle agents and the Phoenix Park murders from 1882 and a memorable conclusion.

LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS

Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill’s prize-winning novel is unputdownable.

It’s narrator, Baby, is 12 years old. Her mother is dead. Her heroin-addicted father largely leaves her to her own devices to navigate the waters of Montreal’s red-light district.

She exists right on that cusp between the wonder of childhood and the murky realities of adulthood.

What could be a disturbing read is instead life affirming, which is made unforgettable by Baby’s enchanting turns of phrase.

ONE DAY

David Nicholl

David Nicholls’ novels are perfect beach fare. None are finer than One Day, which charts the relationship of a pair of college friends — feckless, handsome Dexter and the bolshie Emma — through to middle age.

Set in London and Edinburgh, and starting on their graduation day in 1988, Nicholls is a master at wry cultural observation and the neuroses of middle-class people on these islands.

HHhH

Laurent Binet

The young French writer Laurent Binet’s novel about the 1942 plot to kill Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi’s most dreaded mass killer, has been rightly lauded by the likes of Martin Amis.

There are several layers to it — it’s a love letter to Prague, a page-turning pursuit to see what happens to the two resistance fighters tasked with the assassination and a meditation on the nature of historiography.


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