Some literary relaxation and distraction for the end of the summer days

Average read time: 3.5 minutes

Many people speak of the stresses involved in modern life. As family lawyers, we witness on a daily basis how pressures, real or imagined, can so often appear to be the cause of conflicts and strains in families and/or between couples.

For those who enjoy reading, a holiday is a good time to become immersed in the lives of others, even if those others are fictional. Sometimes, being exposed to the way others respond and deal with problems, is a relief and can provide ideas for solutions.

As a change, then, for this holiday period, this column leaves behind the strict letter of the law relating to the family.

For the curious and those who are intrigued by the way others deal with their lives, whether it is well or badly, we have made a short, random selection of literary books which we hope may stimulate some interest. They are all written by well-respected novelists, several of them prize-winners, and are the sort of books that tend to stick in the memory and generate thoughts and ideas about problems in life which can occur to any of us.

Each recommendation is on a topic which has relevance to family life in its broadest sense.

Many others would choose an entirely different list but this is ours.

Family by Susan Hill

This book was published in 1989. Susan Hill is one of the most distinguished novelists and short story writers in this country in the late 20th and 21st centuries. This however is not a novel. It is the story, first, of Susan's own childhood. The author then moves on to tell of her own family with her husband, Stanley, including her children. In particular the book provides a vivid, honest and intensely moving account of the fight for life of their premature baby, Imogen, which ended in the death of the child after five weeks.

The book is not, however endlessly bleak and speaks marvellously, from first hand, real life experience, of the resilience of the human spirit.

Disgrace by J.M. Coatzee

J.M. Coatzee was a South African novelist and poet who died in 2018. With this novel Coatzee was awarded the Booker Prize in 1999.

The book follows the life of the main character, David, who was an academic before being dismissed, after having admitted to an affair with one of his students. David retreats to the house of his estranged daughter deep in the bush. There David and his daughter are the victims of a disturbing attack, which places their difficult relationship and David's dilemma, into some sort of context in modern South Africa.

The book examines the possibilities for recovery of apparently shattered lives.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This has been one of Graham Greens' most popular books since its publication in 1951. The American novelist, William Faulkner, described it as 'One of the most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody's language'.

The novel deals with the affair by a novelist, Maurice, with Sarah, the wife of his friend, which began in the Blitz in London. Without notice and unexpectedly, Sarah breaks off the relationship. Maurice is unable to get over the break-up and two years later, driven by obsessive jealousy and continuing grief, he engages a private detective to follow Sarah and to try to find out the truth.

The novel deals with the nature of an adulterous love affair and the joy and guilt associated with it in almost equal proportions.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Both these books are short, each fewer than 150 pages. Julian Barnes has an extraordinary ability to conjure up and describe human emotions most sensitively and in depth. Each of these books deal with reflections upon a life and reminiscences, good and bad, happy and sad.

The Children Act by Ian McKewen

This novel was made into a film starring Emma Thompson, playing the role of a judge who has to decide whether a child should be given medical treatment to which his parents are opposed on religious grounds.

It is therefore the only book in our recommendations which has a direct legal setting.

The description of the relationships between the judge, committed to her professional duties, and her husband and also with the boy is emotionally charged and convincing.