Book clinic: recommended books about the best of humanity

From a redemptive tale set in Norfolk to classic Michael Frayn, our expert selects books that are funny and inspiring

Q: I am fed up with so many books and TV programmes being about horrible people doing horrible things to other people. Can you suggest something funny or inspiring or both, which is also a page-turner and well written, that is about the best of humanity, not the worst? Never without a book, I am in my early 60s, live in London, work on a website and want to feel more cheerful about the world. Anonymous

A: Observer writer and critic Kate Kellaway

Happiness, it is sometimes said, “writes white” – or even off-white. I agree there are too many books – especially novels – that are wilfully nihilistic and I am weary of books where the feel-bad factor prevails. For its healing beauty, Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure would be my first stop – to recover equilibrium. It is his account of writing himself out of depression in a contemplation of Norfolk (may the county never be described as merely “flat” again). It is a quietly inspiring book and I cherish it.

For comedy, you cannot beat Michael Frayn’s classic novel about Fleet Street, Towards the End of the Morning. His Fleet Street might be a thing of the past but the comedy of this book has not dimmed. I first read it at bedtime as a student frightened of sitting finals – it made me laugh and helped me sleep. And I have just finished reading The Mare by Mary Gaitskill about a girl from an abusive family (yes, I know – but hold on) who forms a relationship with a wayward mare and brings together, in a non-fairytale way, her turbulent mother and her good but struggling foster parents. It is a stirring, redemptive page-turner.

If you’ve got a question for Book Clinic, submit it below or email bookclinic@observer.co.uk

Contributor

Kate Kellaway

The GuardianTramp

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