Books

MUST READS

MUST READS

THE PANIC YEARS by Nell Frizzell (Penguin £8.99, 352 pp)

THE PANIC YEARS  

by Nell Frizzell (Penguin £8.99, 352 pp)

Puberty and the menopause have traditionally been considered the two defining dramas of women’s lives. But in her timely and honest book, journalist Nell Frizzell identifies a third stage of life.

This period, which she calls the ‘Panic Years’, encompasses the brief decades of fertility during which women must first decide whether they want to have children and then face the hard realities of how, when and with whom.

At 30, Nell was single and childless. While her friends were sailing into adult life with weddings and babies, Nell flung herself into work and a frantic series of unsuitable relationships.

Eventually, she found a good man — but he wasn’t ready for fatherhood.

Frizzell’s brave and funny book is a clarion call for a new kind of conversation about love, work and parenthood.

UNSETTLED GROUND   

by Claire Fuller (Penguin £8.99, 304 pp)

Many people long to live a simpler life surrounded by nature, but Dot and her middle-aged twins, Julius and Jeanie, know the true meaning of rural poverty in this bleakly beautiful book which won the 2021 Costa novel award.

Living in a decaying farm cottage, the family survives on Julius’s earnings from odd jobs and by selling vegetables. But when Dot dies suddenly, the twins’ lives quickly unravel.

Facing eviction from their home and demands for debts that Dot apparently ran up before her death, they struggle to comprehend the complexities of modern life.

Destitute and brutalised by thugs, they learn their lives have been built on secrets and lies. Yet this awful discovery contains the seeds of a brighter future.

The time they lost can’t be regained, but independence and contentment are within their grasp.

THE LIVING SEA OF WAKING DREAMS by Richard Flanagan (Penguin £8.99, 304 pp)

THE LIVING SEA OF WAKING DREAMS   

by Richard Flanagan (Penguin £8.99, 304 pp)

As bush fires rage in Tasmania, an old woman lies dying. Francie has had a life of hardship but she is a survivor. As her medical condition worsens, her son Tommy, an unsuccessful artist, summons his two siblings, Anna, a celebrity architect, and Terzo, a wealthy fund manager, to Francie’s bedside.

While Tommy accepts that his mother’s life is ending, Terzo has other ideas, insisting on ever more heroic interventions to keep her alive, even as she begs to be released from her torment.

As Anna keeps vigil by her mother, she notices an extraordinary phenomenon: parts of her own body have begun to disappear. Humans themselves seem to be dwindling, alongside the wounded planet.

Flanagan’s novel carries an urgent warning, but also a message of hope. 

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