Last January, I decided that this was the year I’d reread some of my all-time favourite books. I thought one per month would be reasonable; I actually read ten, although I’m awarding myself double points for the single non-fiction book. By sheer chance, they divided equally into five I found well worth revisiting and five that didn’t thrill me so much second time around. Read on to see which was which.
Books that merited rereading
The seventy-something neighbours in Kent Haruf’s novel Our Souls at Night find a practical antidote to loneliness that develops into love; unfortunately it’s scuppered by the ageism of their children. Wreaking by James Scudamore is a deliciously disturbing story set largely in the ruins of a former psychiatric hospital. Despite my reservations about his fictional asylum, I enjoyed how Sebastian Barry explores Irish history in his novel about the relationship between a hundred-year-old psychiatric patient and her world-weary sixty-five-year-old psychiatrist in The Secret Scripture. I reread Wide Sargasso Sea for an online talk on writing about mental health issues, where I contrast Charlotte Brontë’s depiction of Rochester’s first wife in Jane Eyre with Jean Rhys’s humanising the same character over a century later. Rereading Museums of Madness by Andrew Scull reminded me that the cruel treatment of Brontë’s Bertha was far from unusual for the times.