A couple of years ago, I put together some themed posts showcasing a few of my favourite autumn and winter reads. They were interesting to compile, but for some reason the spring and summer equivalents never happened, possibly due to forgetfulness on my part or a lack of time.
So, as the weather begins to turn a little milder, I thought it might be fun to pick some of my favourite spring reads from the shelves. I always look forward to this season, seeing it as a time of renewal, recovery and transformation, especially after the crippling harshness of winter (my least favourite of the four). Hopefully my choices will reflect this!
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)
No self-respecting list of spring reads would be complete without Elizabeth von Arnim’s utterly delightful novel The Enchanted April, in which four very different English women come together to rent a medieval castle on the Italian Riviera for the month. Without wishing to give away too much about the ending, this charming story has a touch of the fairy tale about it as the four women are transformed in various ways by their time at San Salvatore. A truly magical read, guaranteed to lift the spirits – an enchanting experience indeed!
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938)
Another sparkling read that taps into the ‘transformation’ theme with plenty of humour and verve! Set in London in the 1930s, Watson’s book captures an extraordinary day in the life of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a rather timid, down-at-heel spinster who has fallen on hard times. It’s a lovely take on the classic Cinderella story as Miss Pettigrew finds herself drawn into a new world, a place of adventure, excitement and new experiences. This is a charming novel, full of warmth, wit and a certain joie de vivre. One to read or revisit if you ever need a treat.
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953)
Every now and again, a book comes along that captivates the reader with its elegant form and glittering prose. Maud Martha is one such book, painting an evocative portrait of the titular character’s life from childhood to early adulthood. Over the course of the novella (which is written as a series of short vignettes), we follow Maud Martha through childhood in Chicago’s South Side, her early romances as a teenager, to marriage and motherhood, moving seamlessly from the early 1920s to the mid-’40s. I loved this book for its gorgeous, poetic prose and beautiful use of imagery. A wonderful rediscovered gem courtesy of Faber Editions, a fascinating imprint that consistently delivers the goods.
The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
We’re in darker territory with this one, set as it is in Moscow in 1913, a time of political and industrial change for Russia. Ostensibly, the novel tells the story of a marriage, but with Fitzgerald, there’s often something deeper or mysterious happening below the surface. It’s also a wonderfully evocative portrayal of early 20th-century Russia, complete with bustling tea rooms and well-to-do houses. Towards the end of the book, there’s a beautiful extended passage covering the change and evolution of birch trees as the seasons pass from spring through to winter and back to spring again. In the space of two pages, Fitzgerald describes the lifecycle of the birch as we follow the trees from birth to decay – and ultimately to death. A quietly compelling book that leaves much unsaid, encouraging the reader to reflect, colouring in the gaps.
These Days by Lucy Caldwell (2022)
I loved this novel, an immersive portrayal of the WW2 bombing raids in the Belfast Blitz, seen through the eyes of a fictional middle-class family, the Bells. The story takes place in the spring of 1941, encompassing the Easter Raid – a devastating sequence of bombings that led to nine hundred deaths and multiple additional casualties. What Caldwell does so well here is to make us care about her characters, ensuring we feel invested in their respective hopes and dreams, their anxieties and concerns. It’s the depth of this emotional investment that makes her portrayal of the Belfast Blitz so powerful and affecting to read. A lyrical, exquisitely-written novel from one of my favourite contemporary writers.
The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan (stories from 1953 to 1973)
I’m bending the rules a little to include this sublime collection of short stories as it’s not very spring-like despite the title. In this instance, the word ‘spring’ has a different meaning. There is no rejuvenation or renewal here; instead, we find heartache, disappointment and resentment lurking in the rhythms of day-to-day life. All the stories are set in the same modest terraced house in the Ranelagh suburb of Dublin, opening with a sequence of seven short autobiographical pieces offering brief glimpses of Brennan’s childhood in the 1920s. Brennan then casts her eye on the Derdons (a middle-aged couple whose marriage is characterised by an intense emotional distance) and the Bagots (another couple experiencing difficulties in their marriage). What sets this collection apart from many others is the cumulative sense of disconnection conveyed through the stories, the layers of insight and meaning that gradually reveal themselves with each additional piece. (I’m currently rereading it for my book group, another timely reason for its inclusion here!)
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J. L. Carr (1975)
We’re back to spring in earnest here with this charming, amusing novella which earns its slot because the FA Cup Final takes place in May. In short, the book charts the progress of a village football team who, through a combination of talent, discipline and determination, achieve their dream of going all the way to the cup final, snatching victory in the game’s closing minutes. (This isn’t a spoiler, by the way, as the novella’s title reveals the story’s outcome upfront.) I love this tale of the plucky underdogs – titular non-leaguers Steeple Sinderby Wanderers – overcoming all the odds to beat the mighty Glasgow Rangers, scooping the treasured Cup in the process. Although very different in style to Carr’s Booker-shortlisted A Month in the Country, Steeple Sinderby shares something of that sublime novella’s tone, an air of wistfulness and longing for halcyon times past.
Do let me know what you think of these books if you’ve read some of them already or if you’re thinking of reading any of them in the future. Perhaps you have a favourite spring read or two? Please feel free to mention them in the comments below.