Cathy Rentzenbrink is the prize-winning author of The Last Act of Love and A Manual for Heartache and Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books. She speaks and writes regularly on life, death, love, literature, literacy and mental health. Here she shares her favourite transportive books …
The older I get the more I accept that my favourite kind of travel is the type that I can do from the safety and comfort of my own home. Without any of the stress of packing or the worry of forgetting things, I can curl up and transport myself not only all over the world but back in time. I am still amazed by the miracle of reading and how each book is a time machine with no limits apart from our own willingness sign up for the journey. And, of course, if I do go on an actual holiday, all I want to do when I get there is read.
Perhaps my favourite period to read about is the Second World War, though it is the human stories and relationships that appeal, rather than battles. Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh opens when Charles Ryder is a soldier but quickly takes us back to Oxford in the 1920s when he made friends with the charming and enigmatic Sebastian Flyte. We can almost taste the strawberries and the plover’s eggs and feel the warmth of the long summer days as Charles becomes increasingly enamoured with Sebastian and his entrancing family and their magnificent home.
When we meet historian Claudia Hampton, the heroine of Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, she is in a hospital bed, nearing the end of a long and eventful life. As she drifts in and out of consciousness, Claudia remembers back to her time as a war correspondent in Cairo where she both found and lost the great love of her life as the armies faced each other in the desert.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene takes us to London in June 1944 as strange new weapons drone across the night sky and find their way to the home of Maurice Bendrix, a writer who is enthralled by his lover, Sarah. Bendrix is knocked out by the blast and comes to covered in plaster dust with blood on his face. When Sarah says goodbye, he doesn’t realise that she is leaving him forever. Only after the end of the war will he finally understand why.
Margaret Kennedy became famous in the 1920s when her novel The Constant Nymph became a global bestseller. The Feast is a set in 1947 in a seaside hotel in Cornwall. The landlady is doing her best despite her lazy husband as the guests try to have a good time against the backdrop of post-war austerity. The poorer children look like plants who have been grown in the dark and queue for their sweet ration hoping for marshmallows or fudge. The more fortunate have pockets full of off-ration delights sent from America. Like many of my favourite novels, The Feast is so enjoyable that you could be forgiven for not seeing how clever it is at offering up the full gamut of human silliness while still allowing us to remain hopeful about the future.
The Feast by Margaret Kennedy, with a new foreword by Cathy Rentzenbrink, is published by Faber & Faber on June 3, £9.99.
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