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Diane Setterfield Recommends Her Top 5 Reads of 2019

Posted on 15th November 2019 by Mark Skinner

Diane Setterfield's magisterial Once Upon a River set pulses racing as our Waterstones Book of the Month for September, but what books has she particularly enjoyed this year? Find out below...

This Boxing day my plan is to sit all day by the fire reading.  I keep hearing good things about Abir Mukherjee’s detective series set in Calcutta and so one of my fireside companions will be his latest, Death in the East.  This year I’ve fallen in love with everything Bauhaus, so Naomi Wood’s new novel The Hiding Game will also be on the pile.  About love and obsession in a radical art school in Nazi Germany, it has had great reviews.  

A Claxton Diary by Mark Cocker

When I gave this book to my nature-loving Dad, he followed my Mum all over the house reading little bits aloud to her because it’s so good. Arranged month by month, the short pieces can be read cover to cover or – better - with the seasons.  Miraculously close observation of wildlife, great depth of knowledge, a poet’s sensitivity to language – it’s all here. Brilliant stuff. 

£16.99
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One of the great contemporary nature writers unveils a treasure trove of thoughts and essays, lovingly curated from throughout his career as author and naturalist. Structured seasonally, A Claxton Diary provides incredibly close readings of wildlife and landscape, all written in a lyrical, deeply evocative style that demands to be read aloud.
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Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

This note-perfect debut novel has a genius first line and it just gets better from there.  About a pair of friends who live with their mums, play boardgames and go to work, it proves that there is nothing ordinary about ordinary lives. I adored it and have given half a dozen copies away already.  Everyone likes it!

£8.99
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A celebration of the minutiae of everyday life and the idle dreams and small victories of ordinary people, Leonard and Hungry Paul crafts perfectly formed mini-dramas out of the most mundane situations. Strikingly original and, in its devotion to the conventional, highly unconventional in tone, Hession’s beautifully observed novel is an understated triumph.
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The Body Lies by Jo Baker

I’ve gone off thrillers in recent years – I think I got bored of being scared. This one is different.  It’s a clever study of male entitlement and by setting it in the creative writing department of a university, Jo Baker is able to raise questions about violence against women as it is used by storytellers. I don’t mind books that frighten me if they also make me think, and this one does just that. 

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A lithe, intelligent thriller that crackles with psychological suspense and emotional intensity, The Body Lies is also a nuanced exploration of sexual politics and misogyny in the workplace. Deftly paced and smartly structured, Baker’s nimble page-turner is deliciously sinister and compelling.
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Ghostland by Edward Parnell

This is just up my street. I love non-fiction that moves me the way novels do, and this is one of those. Bringing together the author’s own experience of family loss with accounts of books and films that focus on ghostly places, it is a reminder that being haunted is one of the defining characteristics of being human.  Perfect!

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Ghostland deftly interweaves the intimate and personal with the historical and cultural, tracing a dimly-lit path through the landscapes that inspired the likes of M.R. James and Alan Garner, and resulted in classic folk horror cinema such as Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man. A darkly atmospheric and oddly moving book about the heritage of the past and the hunger for belonging.
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Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus by Fiona MacCarthy

The Bauhaus has got a grip on me this year, and Gropius could have no better biographer than Fiona MacCarthy. In telling the story of the founding and the disintegration of the Bauhaus, she unearths the man behind the myth. It’s a big book, but I read it in two days flat and fell in love. 

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Acclaimed biographer Fiona MacCarthy impresses with this mesmeric, lavishly illustrated, three-act history of the man behind the Bauhaus. Drawing comparisons with William Morris – to whom Gropius was often likened – McCarthy explores his drive towards a post-war craft aesthetic, fused with political idealism, as well as exploring his fascinating personal life and the women who loved him.
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