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Lolly Willowes and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter • #110

Charmingly eccentric tale with a sharply feminist point of view or a ‘hot mess’ – what did Laura’s book club make of Lolly Willowes by Silvia Townsend Warner?

Meanwhile in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers explores loneliness, the human need for understanding and the search for love. What did Kate’s book club think. Should you pick it up? Listen in to find out.

Book recommendations

 A Start in Life book coverA Start in Life by Anita Brookner.

In the mood for another wry about female empowerment after Lolly Willowes? Laura thinks you should try A Start in Life, Anita Brookner’s debut novel. ‘Ruth Weiss, an academic, is beautiful, intelligent and lonely. Studying the heroines of Balzac in order to discover where her own childhood and adult life has gone awry, she seeks not salvation but enlightenment. Yet in revisiting her London upbringing, her friendships and doomed Parisian love affairs, she wonders if perhaps there might not be a chance for a new start in life.’ For all Laura struggled with it at time of reading it has stayed with her, and we think it would make for excellent book club discussion.



Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Following on from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, may we suggest this fascinating investigation into a Southern-Gothic murder tale as seen through the eyes of Harper Lee. If you know anything about Lee it’s that after To Kill A Mockingbird she never published another book (until the recent Go Tell A Watchman, of course, but that feels like a slightly different story). The question of why such a talented writer never published again is one of the most enduring mysteries in literature but in Furious Hours Casey Cep goes a long way towards explaining it. She follows Lee’s interest in the riveting true-crime drama of the Reverend Willie Maxwell, a suspected serial killer with a penchant for secretly taking out life-insurance policies on family members, and then murdering them. Lee followed the investigation and trial closely, accumulating a mass of notes and research but never completed her book. Michael Lewis, reviewing the book in the New York Times writes: ‘“Furious Hours” builds and builds until it collides with the writer who saw the power of Maxwell’s story, but for some reason was unable to harness it. It lays bare the inner life of a woman who had a world-class gift for hiding.’ It’s an enthralling read, a bravura feat of research, beautifully written and full of rich material for book club discussion. We think it would be perfect.


We loved digging in to Robert McCrumb’s somewhat contentious list of the 100 best novels written in English. Still, hard to argue with someone who has done that much reading. Rachel Cooke responds.

Robert McCrumb’s 100 Best Novels Written in English 

1 in 5 does not represent over 300 years of women in literature: Rachel Cooke’s response.

Further listening

If you enjoyed this episode don’t miss our look back over our favourite reads of 2021 in our Best of the Year special episode. It’s chock-full of book recommendations.



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