Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines … the smallest one was Madeline.” So easy to read aloud, so funny with its quirky characters, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans is set amidst the buildings and boulevards of Paris but Madeline is American, not French. A brave little girl with red hair from Texas, she finds herself in Miss Clavel’s boarding school where order reigns but in a kind way. Parents are rare in Madeline’s world, just as they were for her creator. Bemelmans, an emigrant who claimed his own father forgot to meet him off the boat when he arrived at Ellis Island as a teenager, designed covers for the New Yorker and Vogue and wrote nearly 50 books including memoirs of his unhappy childhood. None have had the same staying power as the story of Madeline, which first appeared in 1939. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, €11.20.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by German writer Patrick Süskind is the kind of book that could have dropped from view after its 1985 publication, its subject matter being weird and unsettling. But readers loved the historical fantasy tale of orphan Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who is born with an uncanny sense of smell and becomes a perfumer who is driven to murder when he discovers a young girl with a scent he just cannot decode. The book has since gone on to sell more than 20m copies as well as being made into a movie in 2016 and a six-part TV series now showing on Netflix. Süskind now lives as a recluse and regularly refuses awards and interviews. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, €9.30.
Amongst Women by John McGahern
John McGahern’s Amongst Women won several awards on publication in 1990 and was shortlisted for the booker prize that year. A slim book that can be read in one sitting, it evokes rural Ireland of the 1950s as a place of almost mystical beauty and crushing oppression. Moran, a one-time IRA leader, is now a farmer grown bitter at what his country has become, but still king of his own home where he broods by the fire, rosary beads spilling from his hands. As his strength fails his daughters rally around but his estranged eldest son Luke stays stubbornly away. Nothing, it seems can revive Moran’s spirits and he leaves the world with a final harsh word to his daughters, who are devastated at his death and at last free of his power. Amongst Women by John McGahern, €8.45.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
In damp and dreary London one February, four very different women spot the same newspaper advertisement: “To Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine. Small Mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let”. They swap the metropolis, with its uncaring husbands and silly suitors, for a sun-drenched garden by the sea. Friendship and love flourish among the tumbling geraniums and fiery nasturtiums as the sunshine heals old wounds and puts everyone in a much better mood. Just shy of its 100th birthday and an instant bestseller when published in 1922, The Enchanted April is credited with putting Portofino on the tourist map. Von Arnim, a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, wrote the story while staying at Castello Brown in the village, and this was also the setting for the 1991 movie of the book. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, €10.50.
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