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.
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