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Southeast Asia In Pictures: Week VI

Every week during our eight-week trip across Southeast Asia, I plan to post a handful of snapshots and stories from the week just gone.

Street scene in Hanoi.

The sixth week of our trip was a watershed moment in our travels. Arriving in Hanoi, Vietnam meant we’d done it! We’d completed – and enjoyed! – our epic overland journey from Phnom Penh in Cambodia via the Mekong Delta. We’d weathered two temperature-raising bouts of flu, rattling sleeper trains, lukewarm rice and hair-raising minivan rides. It was both a relief and a triumph. 

By the time we arrived in the Vietnamese capital, we were travelling at a slower pace. Less concerned with seeing the big ‘sights’, we spent a lot of time simply walking the streets, stopping for tofu banh mi packed with crunchy julienned vegetables and delicate herbs, our fingertips coated in an amber glaze of sweet, sticky chilli sauce.

There is a storybook quality to Hanoi: something enchanting and slightly magical about the faded shopfronts, the colonial colour combination of peeling mustard yellow and deepest cetacean blue, the pockets of peace among the chaos one can find by diving down a back alley or sitting in the open shopfront of a street café.  I absolutely adored photographing the street scenes of the Old Town, where fruit and flower sellers wheel pushbikes among the fast and furious river of traffic that never, ever seems to end. 

Hanoi’s Old Town consists of 36 ancient streets, each named after the traditional craft or trade centred around that area. Tradesmen can often be seen working from the pavement outside their shop, as below. It was a window into a pre-industrialised era, long gone in our developed society.

A common sight in Hanoi: hungry customers sat devouring fiery bowls of noodle soup, fried dumplings or a cup of cà phêhot and sweet. The tiny stools are not just a nod to the generally petite stature of the Vietnamese. They’re also easy to hide from the police. After all, it’s theoretically illegal for these informal street food cafés to take up space on the pavement. Very occasionally, law enforcement will go on the hunt for a fine – something these vendors have quickly wised up to. The small, lightweight stools are easy to scoop up and chuck inside at the first sound or sighting of a copper. And the convenient, win-win side-effect: more space to squeeze in hungry customers for a bowl of phở and continued provision of mouthwatering food for us. 

After forty-eight hours in Hanoi, we flew back to Singapore for a week of respite at my parents’ apartment after a month of overland adventures. I won’t go into too much detail here but suffice to say, we had our fair share of hot showers, lie-ins, hawker food (without fretting about foodborne illness) and ticked off a few more experiences on our Singapore to-do list.

A highlight of the week was undoubtedly completing two hikes with my Singaporean schoolfriend, Adeline, who was visiting her parents the very same week. We scaled the Southern Ridges and Henderson Waves Bridge and the next day, addicted to our climbing step counts, tackled the MacRitchie Reservoir Treetops walk (complete with monkeys). 

In the next instalment: a new country to explore! But you’ll have to stop by later this week to find out which… 

Poem For The Weekend #73

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Ellen Bass

(And then read this wonderful column on this very poem.)

2017 In Pictures: A Retrospective

There was lot of talk on social media and in the papers about what a horrible year 2017 was, but I (perhaps naively) think it was an improvement on the year that preceded it. My heart was cleaved in two by 2016’s Brexit vote and the election of a certain American president and while twenty-seventeen saw the effects of these decisions come to fruition, I also took comfort in the resistance movements, demonstrations and positive forces of chance that sprung up as a direct result: like sunshine after rain, or the gold left behind in the sieve caked in mud, or the gleam of pearl in an oyster. The news has still been shocking, as usual, and I haven’t always succeeded in focusing on the glass half full, but I do think there are glimmers of hope. I’ve noticed a shift in the public discourse. Care for the environment is becoming daily more mainstream, gender inequality is more and more visibly discussed, the Women’s March was a pure joy to behold, and I protested more in this one year than I ever have in my life. Small fry, perhaps, but reason for optimism.

This year we celebrated – birthdays (by the seaside for her, on a Cambodian island for him) and new life and the nuptials of friends. I cried every time I saw a friend walk down the aisle. We travelled, near and far. We delighted in togetherness and solitude, too. We revelled in simple pleasures – homemade breakfasts with the weekend papers, coffee in bed (and the stained sheets to prove it), Sunday walks and cups of tea with dear ones. There were hard moments, too – days of uncertainty or anger. Days where the angels of our better nature took flight, or where my overactive imagination got the better of me. But we never went to bed angry and I tried to live more in joy than in fear. I thought of this poem, plenty.

Family members fell ill and I gave thanks for their speedy recovery and for the NHS. 2016 was crammed with European adventures, in a (pretty darn successful) attempt to make the most of my American pen pal-turned-best friend spending a year abroad in Ireland. 2017 was quieter, in that respect, and I missed her, but it was full of its own adventures. For the first 10 months of the year, we stayed close to home (with a few notable exceptions), living parsimoniously as we could in one of the world’s most expensive cities in a bid to save pennies for the year end’s travel dreams. We spent the last eight weeks of the years travelling through Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, stopping off at my parents’ flat in Singapore en route.

In January, we spent many a cosy weekend at home, drinking coffee and preparing our favourite, guilty-pleasure breakfast (fried egg + avocado + chilli jam on toast). The Women’s March was an incredible highlight and such a positive, empowering way to begin a year. (Can we have another one next week?)

protest signs

In February, we walked a lot, keen to stave off the winter blues. We celebrated my 26th birthday with brunch at Dishoom and a surprise afternoon trip to blue, brisk Margate. I’d love to go back for a proper rifle through the secondhand shops this year.

We visited a dear, old friend in the quaint town of Ely for another winter walk.

I worked long and hard in a job where I (unexpectedly, and gladly) made a handful of genuine friends – kindhearted, interesting and interested, funny, fun. Together, we dragged ourselves through a set of months in the office that felt, often, as if we were wading through treacle. We were a good team, buoyed by lunch hours in the park beside the Thames, chatter-filled tea breaks and table football tournaments. I knew all along I couldn’t-wouldn’t stay – Asia was calling – but I feel proud that these friendships have continued to grow, even in absence, and I can count my old colleagues as new, true, real-life friends.

In March, the most hopeful of months, as the apple trees burst into bloom, we walked along the Thames most weekends (and found plenty of Victorian crockery and a piece of unexploded ordnance from World War II in the process!). Our autumn sabbatical was already in the embryonic stages of planning, so we knew Hammersmith wouldn’t be our home forever. I’ll cherish these memories of our London weekends, looping around the embankment and back home for coffee via the garden centre beneath the railway arch, my whole life long.

I took a solo trip to Singapore to visit my parents that month, too – a riot of colour and fecund, tropical heat after months of grey British winter. My ma and I took a little ‘side trip’, as she calls them, to Cambodia, too, and I fell more and more in love with Southeast Asia and its residents.

In April, we spent time with family, overjoyed at the imminent arrival of a new member. Our sweet, frail cat left us, eighteen years old, and I found some solace in the cyclical nature of the seasons.

My oldest friends and I rented a house in the hills of Bath for Easter weekend. Joyous! I pushed seeds into cool soil and crossed my fingers. I waited.

In May, we fell madly in love with the friendliest cat in the neighbourhood (and vowed to have our own someday).

We delighted in the discovery of an incredible neighbourhood pizza joint. We cooked plenty of meals, eating them around our small living room table with a side of conversation. We hosted friends and family. We walked I delighted, every evening, in running through the house and out the back door, feeling the cool stone on my soles, to water my flowers.

In June, the sweet peas bloomed with vigour and I filled our flat with them, stuffed into glass bottles, their scent fragrancing every room.

We tried to appreciate the last few months in our little, idiosyncratic home. We played Møllky in multitudes (and I sometimes won!). Our German friends, Caroline and Franz, came to visit on the hottest weekend of the year and we spent a Gatsby-esque evening drinking locally sourced cocktails in a herb garden perched on the roof of a museum by the Thames.

I found my wild swimming groove, spending so many delightful hours pondering life in London while swimming loops of the Serpentine. Sometimes I took my adventure-loving best friend with me; mostly, my thoughts and a gaggle of geese were my company.

July saw us feasting in France at my aunt and uncle’s home, wandering the alleys of nearby Bordeaux, and cycling along the river Garonne.

My friends and I hosted a hen party for our dear friend, Rosie, and had plenty of fun (going completely overboard, as only friends do) decorating the house and preparing a banquet for the ages.

I met the inestimably lovely Melissa, a wonderful writer and marvellous human – and a friend met through this very blog! We had such a magical day wandering around London’s gardens, hills and tearooms. I wish Glasgow and London were closer to one another!

2017 was the year I grew a garden. Or better put, 2017 was the year I successfully grew a garden. In 2016 our flat’s brown square of land out back remained mostly drab and lifeless. The wildflower seeds I’d flung at the cold, untilled earth in a too-cold spring had failed to germinate and my dreams of a green oasis beyond our back door remained just that. In 2017, spurred on by extracurricular reading, I got to work early in the year – mulching and digging and weeding and composting. It paid off, wonderfully, and I learned the veracity of that first rule of gardening: the importance of a good foundation. I spent many contented hours pottering in the shed with my grandfather, whose dahlias are the finest I’ve ever seen, whose tomato yield could almost feed a village.

By summer we had a patch bursting with copper nasturtiums, a rhubarb harvest that spanned seven months, bee-bringing salvia, umber marigolds, perfectly ripe tomatoes for lunch daily. It was my pride and joy and what I was most sad to leave when we left.

And leave we did. In August, with an eye to our future plans, we gave notice on our little flat – our first home together – and got round to all those niggling household jobs we’d put off for two years. We moved home, to my childhood bedroom, to the outskirts of London and we very fortunate to be able to house-sit for two months and save a few more pennies.

We moved out of our flat on a Friday and headed the heck outta dodge the very next morning for our ‘summer holiday’, a frugal but lovely week of cat-sitting in the Wiltshire hills.

We spent a day in Bath and a night in Bristol, catching up with old friends with fish’n’chips on the docks and revisiting the same conversation we have once or twice a week over and over (something along the lines of ‘Why don’t we live in Bristol? Let’s move to Bristol?’ Watch this space…) I worked my way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s truly excellent River Cottage Veg and discovered the world’s most failproof and toothsome (vegan!) brownie recipe.

In September, I handed in my notice at work – a relief, but surprisingly sad too. I learnt so much in the eighteen months I spent at that job and though I felt a little resentful at how much I’d given, for so little in return, I know it has and will continue to stand me in good stead for the future. I was so touched by the well wishes of so many colleagues there, who all wished me well in the future, with my travels and freelance venture. People can be so kind, and that moved me.

My sister and I rediscovered one of our favourite places in London, the Hill Garden and Pergola. I swam a lot and picked so many apples I started gifting them to my favourite colleagues. We purchased rucksacks and buried our noses in guide books. I met my newest cousin, Charlie Peter. I counted my blessings.

In October, I featured in a magazine photo shoot (eating Christmas dinner!), left my job and flew to Singapore. The rest of the year is well-documented on this blog, and will continue to be over the next month. Suffice to say, two months trekking around Southeast Asia (and missing the darkest days of the year) was a triumphant way to end a year of change. Leaving my full-time job to pursue my own agenda is something I’ve quietly dreamed of for years and I am pinching myself that I (with a great deal of good fortune, too) have made it happen.

2018 is a year of unknowns, equally thrilling and daunting. I’m forging a new career, my own little words-based business, and though I expected a month or two of an empty inbox (and bank account), I received my first commission on January 2nd and spent last week in a frenzy of translating and editing. And I loved it! Fingers crossed the seeds I sow – metaphorically and literally – continue to reap rewards. My other half is in the midst of a career shift, too, so while we’re back house-sitting in London for now, the year could take us anywhere. Thank you, as ever, as always, for reading this small little space on the web. I am ever so grateful for your readership and wish you a fulfilling 2018.

Southeast Asia In Pictures: Week V

So we return to where we left off: in the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang.

Before catching the bus to Hội An, I spent a morning discovering the city’s avenues and narrow backstreets. I found these glorious blue shutters, observed cyclo drivers dozing in the shade, women peeling vegetables on the pavement, motorcycles on every corner. There isn’t a huge amount of ‘tourist’ fodder in town, but it felt like a genuine place, representative of Vietnam today, a blend of centuries-old traditions and burgeoning modern commerce.

Hội An is geared towards tourists, but a beautiful place to wander around not doing much for a few days. My travel partner was felled by another bout of the flu, but my Singapore-resident mama and friend had already arranged to meet us there, so I spent two sunny, blue-skied days exploring with them, ferrying tea and pastries back to the invalid’s bedside at appropriate intervals.

Hội An’s trademark silk lanterns, beautiful and evocative of an Old Asia, long lost on most parts of the continent. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a rare example of a well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port. As a result, it’s crammed with visitors, but still worth seeing for a day or two.

The highlight of our time in Hội An was undoubtedly a countryside cycling tour with a pair of chatty and mischevious young women, with whom we visited local weavers, a rice wine factory and took a boat across the river crammed with motorcycles, single speeds and people! It’s these kinds of unique experiences that reaffirmed my motivation for taking this madcap journey across a continent: being thrown into unusual, once-in-a-lifetime situations and meeting local tradespeople. This gorgeous woman had such a bright and beautiful smile. She’s been weaving sleeping mats for her village for over forty years, using threads dyed with indigenous vegetables. It’s not an easy job – in fact, she told us she’s damaged her spine as a result – and yet look at that joy. A lesson to take away and remember.

After a goodbye to my mama, which arrived all too quickly, we boarded our last sleeper train of the Vietnamese leg. Unfortunately, I’d caught the same bug as M. by then, so we spent the twelve hours in a feverish delirium, excessively glad that the two bunks above us remained unoccupied. “Making memories!” as my mother would say.

 

Thankfully the long and slightly frenzied journey was entirely worth it. Ninh Bình province was, without hesitation, our favourite stop in Vietnam. Fresh country air and imposing limestone karsts soaring into the sky; storks settling in trees, so white you might mistake them for magnolia blooms; an incredibly friendly host in ‘Mr Tony’ who plied us with hot, sweet lemon tea for our angry throats; a quiet, peaceful aura we’d not yet encountered in all of Vietnam.

The lemon tea and cool air worked their magic and by the next day, we both felt well enough to cycle around Tam Coc Lake and soothe our throats with bowls of piping hot pho. The day after that, we were almost fully recovered and decided to rent a motorbike and cram in as much countryside as possible to make up for lost time. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite shots. The province really was a photographer’s dream.

Coming in next week’s instalment: a few days in Hanoi and a return to Singapore! Thanks you, as always, for reading. I’m aware these sort of diary-style posts are a break from my usual style, but in writing them I hope to document the minute details and observations from the road I might otherwise forget. I’ve got a host of more polished travel posts in the pipeline, too, so stay tuned if you’re more that way inclined. ‘Til next time…

Book vending machine at Books Actually in Singapore

The Reading Year | My Top Books Of 2017

Bookshop in Edinburgh

Today I’m taking a break from travel-related missives to talk about books, glorious books – the top books of 2017, and those I didn’t enjoy so much too. Many of my favourite below-the-line discussions on this little website have revolved around the written word, why we read what we do, and shared recommendations. A surprising part of our long trip away from home has been how much I missed paper books – their unmistakable smell, thoughtfully designed covers, the crunch of a page between the fingers, the pleasing crack of a paperback’s spine. E-readers are ever so convenient, but nothing will trump a proper book for me.

I’ve read thirty books this year (but plan to squeeze a few more in on the thirteen-hour flight back to London and over the festive period), far fewer than some years, but not too shabby. Last year, I promised “I’ll strive to always be reading, to always have a book on the go, to never be without one in my bag (Rory Gilmore, you’d be proud), to always pick words in print, not the newspaper linked to the shadowy screen of my phone” and while I managed that when I was waist-deep in a book, I do find the period between finishing one book and choosing another to be an odd, fallow time in which I am more likely to succumb to online words or the dopamine hit of Twitter. Still, reading is reading, and I’d rather be reading the New York Times on a screen than reading nothing at all.

Next year, I hope I’ll make more time for reading before bed and in the morning, when I read best, and make further use of the local library. I can’t stress enough how vital I believe libraries are to communities and families and young people who can perhaps not afford their own books, yet in the past decade they have been subject to brutal budget cuts and mushrooming closures. As a former library assistant, I saw firsthand how much these institutions can mean to people who live alone, or need help with reading, or to children who love words and stories. They mean a lot to me, too. So if you self-identify as a bibliophile and you make resolutions, please make one to use your public library and make your voice heard on why they’re so important. Here’s to books, a new year and the magic of libraries.

1 ⤜ Autumn, by Ali Smith

2 ⤜ The Story Of The Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante
I waxed plenty lyrical on Ferrante last year, if you remember, and I still think her Neapolitan novels are some of the best ever written. I was legitimately mourning the end of the series, which did not disappoint, but did have the foresight to book tickets to the theatre adaptation at London’s Rose Theatre for the summer. That was a magical interpretation too, and alleviated a little of my grief. See it if you’re a Ferrante fan if you’re able to.

3 ⤜ We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The title says it all. Short, sweet and indispensable. Did you know every 16-year-old in Sweden is gifted a copy? How incredible. Now come on, Britain, get your act together.

4 ⤜ Names For The Sea, by Sarah Moss
A more nuanced look at Iceland than the filtered snaps of the blue lagoon and Reykjavík’s coloured houses that are normally the limit of my exposure to this northern country. Moss is a favourite novelist of mine and so I loved seeing her words used in a different genre. It contained a host of fascinating tidbits about Iceland’s history and the nation as it is today as well.

5 ⤜ The Year Of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
My mum lent this to me and I was expecting it to be a light read espousing more of the hygge hype we’ve all had enough of by now. I was pleasantly surprised. It was funny and deft and genuinely interesting.

6 ⤜ Dear Friend: From My Life I Write To You In Your Life, by Yiyun Li

7 ⤜ The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino
After hearing Calvino’s story (included in this collection) The Distance To The Moon narrated on a podcast, I made a beeline for this set of short stories. It’s otherworldly and bizarre and absolutely wonderful. I’m in awe of Calvino’s mind. One for the science fiction lovers – or those who relish creative storytelling.

8 ⤜ Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An absolute must-read. Adichie highlights the plight of the illegal immigrant better than any other piece I’ve read. As well as being a prescient political treatise on race in the UK, this novel is a love story, too. Adichie weaves these dual purposes together so effortlessly into a spellbinding piece of fiction.

9 ⤜ A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War: It’s What I Do, by Lynsey Addario
Another gripping memoir that sped up the passing of a transcontinental flight. This is a quick read and completely absorbing, especially for those interested in the politics of the Middle East and/or photography.

10 ⤜ Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

11 ⤜ Oysterlight, by Cheryl Pearson
Dazzling, dizzying poems on nature, fairytales, love, what it means to be a woman. Her writing is achingly exquisite and Pearson really deserves a wider readership. Truly gorgeous words.

12 ⤜ The Tobacconist, by Robert Seethaler
Charming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I loved its descriptions of wartime Vienna and the musings it provoked on culpability, war and young love.

13 ⤜ When I Lived In Modern Times, by Linda Grant
This was one of my favourite novels of the year and my passion for it was completely unexpected. I picked it up in the library just as I was checking out a stack of carefully chosen tomes (the bookworm’s equivalent of falling for the fruit pastilles at the supermarket till, surely) and it ended up being my pick of the lot. The book follows the story of Evelyn, a Jewish woman who lives in London but emigrates to (what will soon become) Israel in 1946. The descriptions of London were sublime, and I fell hopelessly in love with the characters and the gorgeous sense of place.

14 ⤜ Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
Strout never disappoints and this novel, the sequel to Lucy Barton, is no exception.

15 ⤜ Admissions, by Henry Marsh
I didn’t think it possible to love a Henry Marsh book more than I loved Do No Harm and planned to buy this book in paperback. In a joyful turn of fate, a proof copy turned up in an office book sale and so I devoured it a few weeks before publication in a hungry frenzy. The impossible became possible: I loved it even more than Marsh’s first memoir. It’s uncomfortable reading in some parts, particularly the passages on old age and death as Marsh contemplates his own mortality, but utterly necessary reading. The last few pages were dazzling, my mind swirling in a kind of book-hangover for days after.

16 ⤜ Upstairs At The Party, by Linda Grant
After adoring When I Lived In Modern Times, I was keen to get my hands on more of Grant’s work. I borrowed this from the library, but never really got into it – probably more my issue than Grant’s. One to try again with next year.

17 ⤜ The Noise Of Time, by Julian Barnes

18 ⤜ Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller
Quirky and charming, this epistolary novel charts the experiences of an eccentric family navigating death. Such charming characters!

19 ⤜ So Many Ways To Begin, by Jon McGregor
I find it hard to put my feelings about this book into words. The writing is just divine and the characters are so mortal, so blindingly relatable, so true to life. McGregor has such a simple way of putting the most heart-wrenching ideas and events into words. He’ll break your heart, over and over.

20 ⤜ Reservoir 13, by Jon McGregor
After the success of the former McGregor book, I dived into his latest release. It was alright, but nothing compared to David and Eleanor’s meandering love story. Sorry, Jon.

21 ⤜ I Am, I Am, I Am, by Maggie O’Farrell
Another I’d-read-in-one-sitting book, or at least I would have had I not been working all hours at my desk job at the time. I hurtled through this creative memoir by O’Farrell (whose novels I really like, too) and it fully satisfied my obsession with all things human body-related. Add in heart-thumping prose and a pace akin to a thriller, and it’s definitely up there as one of the best nonfiction books I read this year.

22 ⤜ The Dogs And The Wolves, by Irene Nemirovsky

23 ⤜ The Dark Circle, by Linda Grant

24 ⤜ Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
Worth the hype!

25 ⤜ The River Of Time, by Jon Swain
An incredibly moving and evocative account of Swain’s time covering the Indochina conflict in the 1970s. All the better for having read it while travelling through Vietnam. The descriptions of lush Mekong landscapes and charming locals were spot on.

26 ⤜ The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott
I love, love, love Alice McDermott’s Someone, but this didn’t quite meet my expectations. The Catholicism was more overt and that perhaps had something to do with it. Nonetheless, it still featured McDermott’s unusual and wonderful turn of phrase and a cast of endearing characters.

Book vending machine at Books Actually in Singapore

A book vending machine at Books Actually in Singapore.

27 ⤜ The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy

28 ⤜ The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot
An original, thought-provoking piece of creative nonfiction that fuses memoir and nature writing. I adored the descriptions of the desolate landscapes of Orkney and the solitary nature of living so far north. I wished I’d been reading a hard copy, too, because I desperately wanted the satisfaction of underlining some of the more beautiful sentences and scribbling notes in the margins.

29 ⤜ The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry
It’s a little cheeky to put this on this year’s list, because I haven’t finished it yet, but I started in it in 2017…! I tried to read this last year, but didn’t quite get into it – even though the opening chapter is written in such gorgeous, fast-paced prose. I tried again this autumn and while I’m still not speeding through it, I’m enjoying it much more.

30 ⤜ East West Street, by Philippe Sands
I stayed up late reading this until my eyelids were drooping on a Thai sleeper train. It concerns itself with the concepts of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’, but does so by examining them through a personal lens, charting the fate of Sands’ family during the Holocaust and the intertwined destinies of three men involved in the Nuremberg Trials. It’s been on my to-be-read list for years, even before it was published, after I watched Sands’ production of The Song of Good and Evil at the National Theatre three years ago. It was such an arresting piece of theatre I still think about it today. It was a pleasure to revisit the same themes, all written in such stylish, clear prose by Sands (a human rights lawyer).

So now to the ulterior motive of this article (of course!): what have you read and loved (or loathed) this year? Thanks to my lovely friend Johanna, I’ve been alerted to the wonders of Wunderlist for making lists and I’m always keen to add to my burgeoning ‘To Read’ list. So ‘fess up, what were your books of the year?

For the curious, last year’s reading round-up can be found here.