Book clinic: which modern novelists could rekindle my love of fiction?

From Barbara Kingsolver to Julian Barnes, our expert picks the best storytellers for someone who has given up novels for gardening

I’ve fallen out of love with novels and now only read gardening books. Which modern writers telling a good story could inspire me to go back to reading fiction?
Nick Boyes, 66, retired and living mainly in a garden near Cambridge

Alex Clark, literary critic
I wondered if perhaps we might start in your comfort zone, as it were, and look at a couple of novels in which horticulture and botany play a role; I’d recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, set in the Appalachians during a sultry summer, and The Seed Collectors, by Scarlett Thomas, a fantastically inventive family saga in which all the characters are named after plants. For a truly heart-stopping opening scene, do also try Philip Hensher’s The Friendly Ones, in which disaster is only averted by a quick-witted gardener-doctor.

But beyond the herbaceous borders, I thoroughly recommend the subtleties and quiet humour of Julian Barnes’s most recent novel, The Only Story, in which a man looks back on a devastating love affair in his youth; Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind, one of my books of the year, which takes us back to the 15th century, but is irrepressibly modern; and Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, set in the aftermath of the blitz.

Sometimes, total immersion is the way to go, and I highly recommend sinking yourself into the glittering, brittle world of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, recently adapted for television.

And finally, for something really gripping, head for Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series, in which a sidelined spook and his cohorts battle their way back to the centre of a life of espionage. Begin with Slow Horses and enjoy.

Submit your question for Book Clinic below or email


Alex Clark

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Book clinic: recommended literary page-turners
This week, our expert suggests a selection of books to rekindle the joy of reading in even the most battle-hardened litterateur

Nicci Gerrard

04, Feb, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which authors can be likened to Julian Barnes?
Comparisons to the Man Booker prize-winner are tricky, but our expert suggests an excellent starting point

Rachel Cooke

01, Sep, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: can you recommend modern fiction to replace my love of classics?
Francis Spufford and Michèle Roberts will satisfy a classical bent, or try going cold turkey with a graphic novel

Claire Armitstead

21, Sep, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which European fiction will revive my love of modernist novels?
Author and critic Alex Preston recommends fiction for fans of modernism

Alex Preston

15, Jun, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which books examine modern masculinity?
Writer Darran Anderson bypasses Houellebecq in favour of fiction from Édouard Louis to Hanif Kureishi

Darran Anderson

07, Mar, 2020 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: what contemporary literary fiction is uplifting?
From tales of older people achieving extraordinary things to a redemptive quest, our expert picks titles that offer hope

Alex Preston

19, Jan, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which fiction best depicts therapy and therapists?
Incisive novels from the psychiatrist’s chair and beyond

Bijal Shah

20, Jul, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which fantasy novelists can I turn to now that Terry Pratchett is gone?
Author Eoin Colfer, who wrote the final book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, advises a bereft reader

Eoin Colfer

02, Nov, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: Which thrillers and crime fiction will keep my teenager hooked?
From Agatha Christie to Anthony Horowitz, writer Peter Swanson recommends the best of classic and modern

Peter Swanson

14, Mar, 2020 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: how can I restore my love of literature?
Reconnect through great stories, beautifully told

Hannah Beckerman

24, Aug, 2019 @5:00 PM