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‘Brideshead Revisited’ is considered the most famous and autobiographical of novels by the celebrated English author Evelyn Waugh. Written whilst the writer was on army leave it remains reflective of youth, returning to a ‘golden age’ of good times which the author experienced between the wars.

Written in 1945, ‘Brideshead Revisited’ tells the story of Charles Flyte and his carefree years of youth at Oxford, his infatuation with the Flyte family and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege that they inhabit. Divided into three parts with a prologue and epilogue this classic is a wonderful escape novel that takes its reader into Charles’s aspirational days of youth - his romantic friendship at college in Oxford, summers at Brideshead Castle with his best friend Sebastian and an introduction into the eccentric Flyte family. As the novel moves into Book 2, some years later, more time is spent with the Flyte family. Whilst Sebastian’s objective is to travel and run away from life, Charles forms even closer relationships with the family. At the same time love interest and parliamentarian, Rex Mottram who represents new wealth is closing in on Sebastian’s sister Julia, just as old money, that has been squandered especially by the patriarch, Lord Marchmain, is running out. Through Charles’s storytelling we witness the stately home, Brideshead, become a struggling institution that is out of step with the country and inevitably doomed. Bringing us back full circle, the final section of the book brings the reader to the beginning when Charles began his story of reflection from the campsite set up in the grounds of very home in which he grown to love.

Religion is a recurring theme in the novel as Charles struggles with the Flyte family’s preoccupation with catholicism and 'divine grace'. As an atheist, Charles is equally obsessed with challenging their faith and the family’s own angst and beliefs as they face darker times. Love and relationships are also a strong thread in the narrative and a theme that tugs at the heart strings between friends and family, revealing a sense of regret and sadness that again we as readers might recognise as we reflect on our own younger selves.

‘Brideshead Revisited’ secured popular acclaim in the ‘80s with a TV serial starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews and Lawrence Olivier. It has subsequently been recognised as one of the greatest literary adaptions and one that closely follows Waugh’s narrative and dialogue. Whether you are reading the novel for first time or with some memories of the hit TV series, this is a classic that remains relevant, offering up plenty of discussion in book club as well as an excuse to indulge in introspection and an appreciation of our own lost youth and the spirit of 'good times'.



“One Day “by David Nicholls was our first book club read many years ago and we've all been wrapped up in the recent Netflix adaptation, so excitement was high for his latest novel, “You are Here” released at the end of April. Nicholls’s skill is his intricate dissection of relationships and this story of two damaged, single, middle-aged individuals being thrown together on a walking mini-break in the Lake District doesn't disappoint. A flawless, impeccably observed and heart-warming love story about being given a second chance at happiness.

Marnie is 38, divorced and living alone in a one bedroom flat in Brockwell Park, working from home as a freelance copy writer. Her best friend Cleo persuades her to join her husband and teenage son Anthony, also Marnie’s godson, on a 3 day walking weekend-break in the Lake District. Cleo plans to use the trip as a little matchmaking exercise for both Marnie and Anthony’s other godparent, Michael, a 42 year old somewhat geeky geography teacher who is forlorn after the recent separation from his wife Natasha. Cleo plans to set up Marnie with Conrad, a charismatic, good-looking pharmacist who lives in London. For Michael she invites Tess, an outdoorsy triathlete. Cleo has tasked Michael with plotting the route and he has chosen the first leg of the ‘Coast to Coast’ walk compiled by Alfred Wainwright’s 190 mile route which crosses the Lakes, over the Pennines, along the Dales across the Moors, descending to the North Sea. Michael plans to stay on after the initial weekend to hike the remainder of the west to east coast across the Dales solo, using it as an opportunity to clear his mind and enjoy nature.

The first hitch to Cleo’s best laid match-making plans is that Tess cancels last minute, followed by the typical, unpredictable British weather. The rain is torrential so gradually members of the party give up leaving Marnie alone with Michael, to not only finish day two’s hike but then stay one further night before her booked train ticket allows her to return back to London. Thrown together they begin to enjoy each other’s company. Marnie makes Michael laugh with her quick witted self-degrading humour and she finds herself confiding in him about her life and ex-husband.

Nicholl’s ability to navigate the awkwardness in those early days of a new relationship together with the missed opportunities of intimacy is exemplary. He skilfully captures the lack of confidence experienced by damaged people and beautifully expresses their rawness and hesitation to be drawn into a new relationship with his sizzling dialogue. The back drop of the Lake District, exhausting hikes, an eclectic selection of overnight accommodation and the contrast of one experienced hiker with one novice provide great humour. Whilst Marnie takes a complete wardrobe with her for a 3-day trip, including a selection of dresses, Michael (never called Mike or Mikey) has just the one shirt. Both prove to be inadequate for the circumstances they find themselves in. A joyous and perfect summer read.



‘Caledonian Road’ by Andrew O’Hagan is an instant hit epic giving a bang up to date ‘state of the nation’ novel set in post pandemic London. With over 600 pages the Den was grateful for the glossary of characters (over 50!) although O’Hagan’s direct narrative and short chapters make it a relative breeze for readers to follow.

The novel pivots around the world of respected art historian and UCL academic, Professor Campbell Flynn who finds himself regretting a loan from a friend whose business and public reputation is being questioned. This starts off as a niggling worry but one that he manages to put off with a new book ‘Why Men Sleep in their Cars’. Campbell believes that this book, in the money spinning self help genre, could be ghosted for a celebrity, successfully sold as a bestseller and by doing so remove his own personal money worries.

The reader is introduced to Campbell’s friend who provided the loan, Sir William Byre and here the web of connections and corruption begin as we meet his privileged family and friends who have links to wealthy Russian oligarchs whose offspring are diverting sanctioned funds into a criminal underbelly. As a slice of London life there is an addictive ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ storyline that has echoes of Guy Ritchie’s Netflix series ‘The Gentleman’ and Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ which we are eager to follow. Running in tandem with Campbell's worries, he has become friendly with one of his pupils Milo Mangasha who lives nearby on the Caledonian Road. With this new friendship, Campbell is enjoying the opportunity to be challenged and learn from his student about social justice, the dark web, crypto currency and the general ‘word on the street’. But he is unaware that Milo and his local girlfriend Gosia have their own plans in mind for him. Whilst Gosia's Polish roots uphold good family traditions at home and in business, her brother has branched out into haulage and transportation which we discover is code for a darker criminal underworld. At the same time, Campbell is experiencing heightened tensions with his sitting tenant, Mrs Voyles, who is occupying the basement flat in his London home.

Campbell himself has working class Glaswegian roots who has bettered himself through education. He is now part of a successful Islington power couple whose wife is a professional therapist from a titled family with privileged children who are exceeding the fame of their own parents. The reader reflects on Campbell’s achievements and his children’s as the story unfolds. The web of interconnecting spin offs from this family make it is an addictive read and we feel Campbell’s anxiety begin to escalate, recognising he is being haunted by his bad judgments and hunted by his frenemies.

The novel touches on lots of modern threads of discussion that include hypocrisy within the world of academia, the arts, business and public life as well corruption that runs through the social strata of metropolitan London. Family dynamics are also probed, presenting a growing chasm in values and ambitions amongst the generations. Love or hate the length of this novel, ‘Caledonian Road’ promises to offer lots of discussion in book club as well as plenty of potential to be snapped up for our screens. The Den is keen, are you?!



Holiday reads are about escaping into an unforgettable and immersive world and so this month we have picked ‘The Whalebone Theatre’, a magical debut novel by Joanna Quinn. Centred round the eccentric upbringing of three children growing up by the Dorset coast, the story begins just as WW1 has finished and ends just as WWII is coming to a close. This book is the ideal summer read which allows you to get lost in the captivating world of the Seagrove family across the generations.

Jasper Seagrove arrives with his new young bride Rosalind at Chilcombe, the family home in Dorset, following the death of his first wife leaving him a both a widower and a father of a young daughter. The story follows the trials and tribulations of the family across death, marriage and war. At the heart of the story are three young children. The eldest Cristabel is bright, feisty and quite the tomboy, Digby is artistic and sensitive like his mother Rosalind and Flossie is a contended daydreamer. All have varying different parents but together lead a rather wild and dysfunctional life within the confines of Chilcombe, brought up by a French governess whilst the adults host glamorous parties. Added to the mix is Taras, a Bohemian artist who lives with two women and a troupe of wild children. One day 12-year-old Crista discovers a beached whale and instantly tries to claim it has her own. With the help of Taras, who sees something special in Cristabel, they preserve the whale’s carcass to make an outdoor theatre and the family become well known for hosting productions, Greek and then Shakespeare, creating imaginary worlds for the local audience. Whilst Digby is a natural acting star, Crista has a talent for directing.

The story moves to the war and correspondence between the family, particularly Crista and Digby as they both serve their country and due to a childhood of speaking French turn out to be valuable recruits as secret agents in occupied France. Back at Chilcombe the whale theatre becomes a vegetable garden overseen by Flossie, with the help of two German prisoners, before she too joins the war effort in Dorset. Can the Chilcombe estate survive and will the Seagrove family be reunited?

This is an epic piece of immersive storytelling across the generations. Quinn’s writing has a wonderful tempo set against the backdrop of the Dorset countryside and the French resistance. Art, theatre and music are beautifully interwoven into the narrative showing their importance in wartime. At times you feel that Quinn should take greater risks and allow a darker side to some of her characters to create heightened tension, but nevertheless it is a warm and thoroughly enjoyable read and the perfect book to pack in your holiday suitcase.



‘In the Twilight’ is a collection of short stories set in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century by the accomplished playwright Anton Chekhov. Picked by a Reading Den fan, it was this collection, his third, that received the prestigious Pushkin Prize after it was published in 1888. Whilst best known for his plays such as 'The Cherry Orchard' and 'The Seagull', Chekhov is considered one of the greatest writers of the short story genre, making this a fabulous choice for book clubs as well as an inspiration to explore more of his work.

This edition, published by Alma Books (2014) and still widely available in print and as an e-book, contains 16 stories from Chekhov’s original collection presenting a slice of life, be it a country walk, travellers on the move, domestic moments in time, a court room drama or a church event. There is little to connect the stories, only perhaps that the characters, from a wide spectrum of life and fortune are all reaching a crossroad in their lives, in which what they say and do defines their path (even if we the reader don’t get the chance to be told the consequences of their actions). Chekhov effortlessly sets the scene as we are dropped into a short story to find ourselves observing moments and interactions amongst family, friends and neighbours, travellers, lovers, religious figures and governing officials.

Fast forward to now and Chekhov's short stories remain fresh and relevant - capturing the essence of his characters battling the elements of life. Popular gems in the collection include “Agafya’, ‘Misfortune’ and ‘On The Road’. The Den enjoyed the touching tale of Vera’s unrequited love in ‘Verochka’.’ And ‘The Witch’ which had a dark and comic twist, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' collection.

Brevity and precision are expertly used by Chekhov reflecting perhaps a new realism that was permeating Russian life at the time as this was a tumultuous period in history for a country that bore witness to the changing social and political reform including the abolition of serfdom and with this the end of feudalism.

In the introduction we learn that Chekhov explained his choice of title to his brother "In the Twilight - there’s an allegory here: life is twilight, and the reader who has brought the book should read it at twilight, whilst resting from the day’s labour.".

Whilst you may find yourself reading the collection on the move, maybe at speed over the spring time break we are sure it'll provide lots of discussion for your next book club gathering.



‘Glorious Exploits’ is an original and entertaining debut novel by the Irish author, Ferdia Lennon, that presents a new and witty historical tragicomedy set at the end of the Peloponnesian War, 412 BC. But you don’t have to be a classicist to enjoy this novel.

Set on the island of Sicily, the story opens with two local potters Lampo and Gelon of Syracuse, who are visiting the local quarry which is holding thousands of Athenian soldiers captive.

"So Gelon says to me, ‘Let’s go down and feed the Athenians. The weather’s perfect for feeding Athenians."

From the start the reader is drawn in by the comic and cheeky Irish vernacular which sets the tone for the novel and enables compassion and kindness in the deadly dark quarry that is holding the island’s enemy.

With no work on the horizon for the local potters, the two young men exchange scraps of bread and olives for recitals of lines from the much loved Greek tragedies enjoyed by Athenians and Sicilians alike. Overcome by their poetic delivery, Lampo has a proposition - to put on Medea in the quarry "Full production with chorus, masks and shit", on the basis that you can hate the Athenians but still enjoy their plays. Redefining themselves as unlikely directors Lampo and Gelon quickly set about casting, sourcing funding and commissioning costumes and stage sets. Their enthusiasm elevates their ambition and the plan expands to not just ‘Medea’ but also ‘The Trojan Women’ (in fear that these plays by Euripides might never survive or get the chance to be seen again). As the performance of the play draws closer the lines between friends and foes are blurring testing their moral compasses within their own communities and amongst their enemy who are integral to the production.

There is also love interest for Lampo who falls for a Persian slave girl from another war torn territory. The tragedy of war runs deep. Everyone has a tragic story to tell which makes this novel all the more captivating and a book you want to pass on because it brings hope to humanity.

The Den particularly enjoyed the audiobook which was narrated by the author - a rare opportunity to bring Lennon's own voice to his story.

KILLING THATCHER: The IRA, the Manhunt and the Long War on the Crown

KILLING THATCHER: The IRA, the Manhunt and the Long War on the Crown

Our Wild Card this month is a gripping non-fiction historical narrative about the audacious attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher during the Conservative party conference held in Brighton in October 1984. Guardian journalist Rory Carroll gives a fascinating visualisation into the minds and thinking of all sides, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the personality of Maggie Thatcher and her government and those involved in the subsequent police manhunt. This all makes for an insightful and riveting thriller read.

Carroll divides his research into three parts, the genesis of a plot, the countdown to the explosion and lastly the long manhunt for the culprits all of which he derived from memoirs, eyewitnesses, police reports and court records. He tells the story through the perspective of various individuals central to this monumental event revolving around Patrick Magee who planted the bomb. Carroll seeks to shed light on why someone of Irish descent, yet who grew up in England, chose to take this infamous path.

The Troubles had been part of life in Northern Ireland and to a different extent, in the UK for several years before the Brighton bombing of 1984. Carroll reminds us of the shocking murder of Louis Mountbatten, the lingering hunger strikes, through to the various IRA atrocities before focusing on the specific build up and behind the scenes work leading up to Magee planting a timed bomb in Room 629 of the Grand Hotel on Brighton’s seafront set to explode on October 12th 1984. Carroll examines the specific circumstances surrounding the explosion, the element of chance involved and the meticulous preparation both sides undertook for their cause, whether that be destroying the government of the day or hunting down the perpetrators. The book reads like a thriller, and for those who remember the Brighton bombing, it not only reminds us of those iconic moments, such as Norman Tebbit being pulled out of the rubble on live TV, but enlightens us to the lesser known facts and long-term consequences of those caught up in the bomb.

The Grand was an iconic landmark hotel in Brighton and a timeless representation of the British monarchy, in which royal portraits adorned the walls and various leaders and celebrities chose to stay here. Magee and the IRA believed that if they could bring down Thatcher, they would be victorious in bringing down British imperialism and uniting Ireland. Whilst the IRA may have committed a crime no one thought possible, it gave Thatcher the golden opportunity to show her resolve and “carry on” - she refused to cancel the party’s conference and went ahead with her speech. It helped Thatcher win an unprecedented third term in office. Yet it did change Thatcher. Carroll believes she forever felt guilty towards those whose lost their lives and in particular the impact it had on her closest friend and colleague Norman Tebbit and his wife Margaret who was paralysed in the bomb. He also believes it led to a certain degree of paranoia which affected her judgement, some of which would result in long-term policy changes. An interesting and thought provoking true crime/political/historical/factual read for this month.



A funny, tragic and darkly absurd story of an unlikely relationship between two women of polar opposites, who seek sanctuary and love in each other’s unconventional lifestyles. The perfect time to read this funny and affectionately bizarre story before it arrives to the screen starring (what better casting!) Jodie Comer.

Greta is middle aged, single, broke and has moved from California with her precious Jack Russell dog called Piñon to a dilapidated mansion in Hudson NYC owned by her eccentric friend Sabine. Greta works as a transcriber for the town’s sex and relationship coach called Om for a book he is writing. Greta finds herself particularly drawn to his latest client whom she names Big Swiss for the simple reason she is tall and from Switzerland. Big Swiss comes across as a strong and formidable woman. She is a gynaecologist, married and wealthy, but we soon discover has experienced a near death beating in her younger years and has never experienced an orgasm. One day, whilst walking Piñon in the dog park Greta bumps into Big Swiss (real name Flavia), instantly recognises this person from Om’s couch and decides to start up a conversation. To avoid detection, Greta calls herself Rebecca and fails to disclose that she is privy to Big Swiss’s sessions with Om. So begins an intense and perilous relationship.

This book is tragic, funny and darkly absurd. The unlikely relationship between Greta and Big Swiss unearths both their pent-up anxieties and hidden suffering. At times the story is quite 'off the wall’ with Greta’s haphazard living arrangements adding to the bizarreness. There is a beehive occupying her kitchen ceiling and various less welcome insect invasions invading the house and many of the periphery characters seem to be life’s ‘oddballs’. As the relationship between Greta and Big Swiss intensifies so it is only a matter of time before the wrong word will be said, or they will be seen together. The intensity of their clandestine relationship reaches boiling point when Piñon is injured causing Greta to spiral into theatrical hysteria, her screaming sounding like “badly played bagpipes” and forcing both women to confront their own internal demons.



‘Look Who’s Back’ is a popular German satirical novel originally published in 2011 about Adolf Hitler who wakes up in modern Berlin to find himself clashing with a new world order. Following its success, the novel has been translated into English (2014) and the basis for a black comedy film of the same name (2015) which has been aired on leading TV platforms. A daring novel written by German journalist, history scholar and ghostwriter, Timur Vermes - for readers looking for a Wild Card choice that will challenge and shake up any book club.

It’s Berlin 2011 and the Führer has woken up to find life has changed - no Eva Braun, no Nazi party and no war. In fact he barely recognises the new Fatherland now filled with immigrants - and with a woman in charge (Angela Murkel)! Rising from the ashes - a patch of earth, Hitler dusts down his uniform and is welcomed as a comic impersonator who refuses to break character.

This novel is shocking and challenging in equal measure as we the reader are lured into the story, told from Hitler’s perspective. However we clearly recognise his insanity and how his thinking is completely at odds with his community and us the readers.

The premise of a historical figure waking up in modern times gives rise to plenty of amusing encounters and it was easy to imagine the surprise and incredulity from our own ancestors and deceased elders, let alone a dictator. There were plenty of comic moments as the twentieth century character comes to terms with technology and communication and simple modern day conveniences such as self service shopping and local chemists in which Mr Boots will not be serving you! The comical aspect of the story lures the reader into the novel and it seems very plausible to imagine how such a monstrous leader and personality might rise to fame in the modern world. In this case, the 'impersonator' is loved for his authenticity and comic genius - always appearing in character (whilst we the reader understand this is the real Hitler). In fact, Hilter’s grotesque slanders finds him further notoriety and adoration amongst his fans.

The outrageous satire sparked lively discussion in our book club and it was easy to see how modern day leaders and personalities can easily exploit social media platforms to spin stories and manipulate its audiences. This was a chilling read and warning to all on how the unthinkable can happen - without even considering the emergence of AI and deep fake resources.

This won’t be a choice for all book clubs - but it certainly is a Wild Card option!



‘Water’ by John Boyne is the author’s first instalment of his Elements series. Written by the master of storytelling including the Den’s much loved ‘The Hearts Invisible Furies’ readers and bookclubbers will be consumed by this immersive tale that can easily be read in one sitting.

Written in the first person, ‘Water’ is a short and captivating story about a woman who arriving on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, changes her name to Willow Hale to escape Dublin and all recognition from her previous life, choosing to live as a hermit in a small cottage. Her first act is to cut away at her hair. This is an alarming start to the novella but one that the reader cautiously accepts because we are in Vanessa’s head and absorbed by her vulnerability, her heightened emotions of guilt, anger and sadness, hanging onto a secret that she is shamed to share but one we know we will discover as the story unfolds.

Vanessa tries her best to appear as an anonymous loner within the island’s small isolated community. However she can’t evade what little there is and all those who frequent the old pub, the new pub, the church and the island’s grocery store. Vanessa is welcomed by the local priest and this takes her back to life with her husband and family and through this encounter the reader discovers flashbacks allowing us to understand her backstory and what it is that she is running away from.

Whilst access to the mainland is limited Vanessa is not completely disconnected from her old life and this is a reminder of her sadness and unhappiness, with texts giving us some impression of her broken relationship with Rebecca, one of her daughters.

Vanessa also has a series of events and chance meetings on the island that help provide some perspective on her past as well as liberating and enabling her to be more independent and care-free - culminating in a noticeable change of character - unexpected hope and a sense of new beginnings.

Whilst there is a deep and traumatic undercurrent to ‘Water’, the Den enjoyed Vanessa’s new found inner strength of identity, confidence and bravery surviving a life changing trauma, as well as a respect for the curious and intriguing islanders that enrich her life and the story.

For those who are eager for more the next instalment, ‘Earth’ is already published for keen fans of Boyne's work. A series you won't want to miss out on!



'The English Patient' not only won the Booker Prize in 1992 but also the 2018 Golden Booker Award so springtime feels like the perfect time to read or revisit this wonderful classic. A caveat however is that if you have seen the iconic Oscar winning film, it takes a while to push these images out of your head.

The story is set in San Girolamo Villa which had been used as a military hospital during WWII. Located 20 miles outside Florence in Italy, the war has just come to an end. Hana, a Canadian nurse has refused to return with her colleagues and opted to look after a severely burnt and nameless “Englishman” in this rundown villa. She is joined by Kip, a Sikh sapper working for the British army and Caravaggio, a thief and friend of Hana’s father who also works for the intelligence service. Through this unlikely union of characters the back story develops.

Everyone in the Den was mesmerised by this book. It is a beautiful and sensual novel, which skilfully transports you into the intriguing and different lives of these 4 individuals. They all share a sense of sadness and loneliness in the world, but are drawn to each other by the random circumstances of war. As the story develops we learn about the deep love story between this injured English Patient and Katherine, a wife of one his friends during their time working in the desert in Egypt. He falls in love with her after hearing her recite poetry “That night I fell in love with a voice.” Alongside this is Kit, who forged out his path as a gifted bomb disposal expert.

There are some magical scenes between all of them and just when you think they are beginning to understand each other, move forward from previous mistrust and all be on the same page, Kit hears some news which forces him to leave suddenly and crush these special relationships.

This is an iconic novel, which any book club should read. The pace of the novel is exquisite and the images linger long in the memory.



Richard Osman released his latest Thursday Murder Club mystery last year and whilst still in hardback (paperback released in May 2024), ‘The Last Devil To Die’ is a fabulously compulsive read for book clubbers looking for entertainment and the chance to catch up with their favourite murder club besties - Joyce, Elisabeth, Ibrahim and Ron. The perfect dose of comedy, compassion and a thrilling crime to be solved.

It’s Christmas time at Coopers Chase but it doesn’t take long for The Thursday Murder Club to find themselves drawn into another suspicious and untimely death involving an old friend in the antique business who has mysteriously been killed and a package he was protecting gone missing. As readers we are delighted to be reunited with the gang as well as drawn into another adventure that takes the team away from their cosy retirement village and on the road to the South Coast to meet with art fraudsters and heroine dealers. Will they be able to find the murderer of their friend? Will they be able to track down the mystery package? Meanwhile back at Coopers Chase a new resident has been tricked into an on-line romance or rather scam. There is also a sub-plot involving Elizabeth who is preoccupied with caring for her husband Stephen who has advancing dementia.

The novel contains the same laughs, a new heartache and a devilish mystery. Something for every Murder Club fan with the biggest tease - who will be the last devil to die?

The Den remain loyal to the characters and enjoyed this quintessentially English murder mystery. Book clubbers will also appreciate the opportunity to indulge in this cosy armchair read. ‘The Last Devil To Die’ won’t fail to disappoint fans but if you are new to the series, it would be wise to read Osman’s earlier novels in the collection.

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