Having read – and loved – The Improbability of Love – back in 2016 when it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I was delighted when its author – filmmaker, writer and philanthropist – Hannah Rothschild agreed to take part in my Desert Island Books series. From the literary classic gifted to her on her fifteenth birthday, to the tome that made her appreciate nature more than ever before, read on to find out which eight books Hannah would take with her to the sandy shores of a desert island…
The Way we Live Now by Anthony Trollope
Surely the biggest baddest baddie in literature, Augustus Melmotte, a foreigner intent on swindling dumb British toffs out of their last inheritance, arrives with a load of fake shares and a beautiful daughter. He nearly succeeds but his comeuppance when it comes is bleak, pathetic and thoroughly enjoyable.
The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante
Discovering these books later than most, I read them back to back, only pausing/sleeping from absolute necessity. It tells the story of two friends from childhood to middle age and how fate, choice and random events affect their lives. Husbands, lovers, family and children are bit part players on a stage dominated by one central extraordinary and destructive female friendship.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
An utterly absurd but brilliant case of mistaken identity: a newspaper sends it nature correspondent (the wrong man called Boot) to cover an African civil war. This fast, light, and lethal novel skewers journalists and the privileged.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
A present from my grandmother to mark my fifteenth birthday and treasured since. Mitford’s satire tells the loosely autobiographical tale of a charming and bonkers aristocratic family.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
One line synopsis: a story of an entrancing, beautiful woman who lives and then dies for passion. It should be required reading for anyone wanting to learn about themselves or others- on every page, Tolstoy lays bare the frailties and peccadillos of human behaviour.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Nine Americans from disparate backgrounds come together to save a forest. This extraordinary novel transformed my view about nature. Never again will I pass a great tree without offering a quiet but heartfelt incantation of thanks, gratitude and wonder. Nor will I take for granted trees’ importance to every aspect of our eco-system and our duty to protect them.
Three Wishes by Baroness Nica de Koenigswater
My great aunt, the subject of my biography, The Baroness took wonderful Polaroid photographs of the musicians and friends she made in New York’s golden era of jazz. She asked each of them to say their ‘Three Wishes’- the result is a charming, unexpected and insightful portrait of a period in time and place.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
The first (but not the last) book to break my heart. Narrated in the first person by a horse, the young Black Beauty had an idyllic life as a foal but in later years had a brutal existence pulling cabs in London. Written when Sewell was disabled, and this was written when she was bedridden late in life. Full of compassion, humour and quite a lot of indignation, the author died five months after it was written, too soon to see some of the laws governing how horse driven cabs were changed as a result.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I love everything Gardam writes and this trilogy, about an aging judge, Sir Edward Feathers, is particularly delicious and very funny. She captures old age, snobbery and village life with such precision and manages to make dry subjects into a juicy rollicking read.
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