historical fictionSunday Salon

The ideal travelling companion?

sundaysalonSuitcase is packed. Passport and currency checked and rechecked. Now all that remains is to decide what book will accompany me on my work trip to Michigan later today.

It’s even more difficult a decision to make than the one around how many pairs of shoes.

The last thing I want is to be on an eight hour flight with a book that I’m not enjoying. Which is why I invariably end up buying another book in the airport ‘just in case’. And why my iPad has been loaded with e books – again ‘just in case’ of a calamity. Because that’s what it would be to me if I run out of reading options before landing.

So the choice of book requires some careful thought.

If I was being good, then I would of course take one of the reading texts from the Plagues, Witches and War historical fiction course:

FeverFever by Mary Beth Keane. This is a novel based on the true life story of Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallone was an immigrant to the United States who was discovered to be a carrier of the disease, passing it on though never suffering herself. Branded by the press as a murderer, she was arrested and held in confinement. The plot sounds good but I’ve seen some comments that the narrative style isn’t wonderful.

Ghost bride

Ghost Brides by Yangsze Choo. Set in colonial Malaya, this novel looks at an ancient custom of ghost brides which is a practice said to placate a restless spirit. It features a genteel but bankrupt family who are tempted by the offer of a ghost marriage for their daughter who otherwise would have few prospects. The setting of turn of the century Malaysia is considered to be one of the highlights of the book.

My hesitation is that I’ve read a lot of historical fiction recently so a change of genre could be welcome. My two shortlisted options are:

The Man Who Forgot his Wife by John O’Farrell. This is the selection for the December book club. It’s about a man who steps off a London Underground train one day (there is a suggestion he was involved in a terrorist attack or a fire) and has no idea who he is. The rest of the novel involves him trying to piece together his life.

L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. This is on my Classics Club list. I’ve enjoyed two of the other books in the Rougon-Macquart cycle and this one has come highly recommended. But I’ve also had one experience with another highly recommended Zola novel – Nana – which I couldn’t finish. So it might be a gamble.

Any suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma? What would you recommend if you’ve read any of these books?


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

7 thoughts on “The ideal travelling companion?

    • I decided to follow the good advice given in response to my question to read an author whose work I’ve enjoyed before. So I picked Troubles by John O’Farrell – it was the Lost Booker winner. But I also brought Fever with me in the case. And the I went and bought two new books on my first night here. So I am certain,y not short of reading material!

      Sent from my iPad

  • Oh, I know the fear of running out of something good to read. It is quite ridiculous, considering the length of my TBR pile. I would pick The Man Who Forgot His Wife from your list, and I would take Fever as a backup. Do let us know what you ended up reading. (I just put L’Assommoir on my shortlist…)

  • I don’t do that much long distance travelling but for me the equivalent is the hospital waiting room. I know to pack enough material to cope with my appointment being an hour late but there was the never to be forgotten occasion when it was two hours late and I ran out (of something to read that is, not the waiting room, although the temptation was there!). I rather like the sound of the O’Farrell, but I suspect by the time you read this that will be irrelevant as you must already be on your way. Have a good trip.

  • joyweesemoll

    Have you heard the word “abibliophobia” — it means the fear of having nothing to read! I think many of us are afflicted. I felt better when I knew there was a fancy Greek term for it.

  • Nordie

    Ah the dreaded “travelling for hours with nothing to read” dilemma. There is one advantage with printbooks over ebooks that people dont always remember: Printbooks dont need to be recharged!

    Anyway, have read none of the above, though the “Ghost Brides” sounds interesting. You got a modern writer who has a latest paperback out that you havent read yet? New, but you dont have to worry that you’ll get 4 pages in and realise it’s awful?

  • I would take a break from the historical fiction, particularly if you’ve heard comments about narrative style. Would be nice to find something that makes you say Yes, this is what I love about reading. Don’t know about the other two. Somehow, I don’t think they will do it. Why don’t you reread something you know you love?


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