Cricketers’ biographies (or, although often less well written, autobiographies) are generally entertaining but undemanding, and therefore suitable for vacation reading. One of my favourites is Gubby Allen: Man of Cricket by EW Swanton. Allen played for Middlesex (1921-50) and England (1932-48) and captained both teams. He bowled in the Bodyline tour of Australia in 1932/3, but defied Douglas Jardine and refused to bowl “leg theory”. He later became chairman of the test selectors (1955-61), MCC president (1963-64) and MCC treasurer (1964-76) and played a controversial role in the D’Oliveira affair in 1968.
For a meatier read, albeit something of a busman’s holiday, you could catch up on some of the many excellent recent studies of the development of the Bar and the criminal trial in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial by Professor John H. Langbein of Yale Law School and Advocacy and the Making of the Adversarial Criminal Trial 1800-1865 by David J.A. Cairns focus on the development of the trial and the barrister’s role in it. Talesfrom the Hanging Court by Tom Hitchcock & Robert Shoemaker tells some of the many stories to be found in the Old Bailey Sessions Papers (which are now available online). The Bar and the Old Bailey, 1750-1850 by Dr. Allyson N. May concentrates more on the individual barristers, such as William Garrow, who did so much to develop the art of cross-examination at the Old Bailey, and Charles Phillips, who created a huge controversy by continuing to acting in the Courvoisier trial of 1840 after his client had confessed to the murder of Lord William Russell.
If you prefer fiction, then you cannot do better than to re-read Jane Austen’s novels or anything by PG Wodehouse. But for something new, consider the novels of the Wakefield author, George Gissing, published between 1880 and 1903. A good start would be New Grub Street (struggling authors) or The Nether World (life in Clerkenwell). Gissing is sadly overlooked today, and deserves to be more widely read. He is at his best describing the hardship and disappointments faced by the less well-off, striving in the face of an unforgiving Victorian society.
Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Lavender QC
What better, when on a recliner in tropical heat than to be reminded of cooler climes. And so it is that I would recommend Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg. In the first place, it is beautifully written (or should I say beautifully written and well translated as the book was written in Danish).
In general I don’t care for detective stories or mysteries; I see enough of that sort of thing in my day job, but the tightness of the narrative and the insight this tale of intrigue and murder gives into the Danish psyche, makes it a worthy exception to my rule. I won’t spoil the plot but guarantee you will be carried along with it and be drawn into the oddities of Smilla’s upbringing and her life in Copenhagen and beyond.
Everyone has heard of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but fewer of Louis de Berniere’s other novels. The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts was his first novel and the start of a trilogy set in South America, a place where the author had lived during the earlier part of his life.
Whilst the book had clear echoes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it is written in a voice that is uniquely that of de Bernieres. It is complex, tragic, funny and profound in equal measure and exemplifies the author’s great ability to create empathetic characters whose story draws in the reader as the narrative progresses.
In an allegorical story, the trials, tribulations and ultimate triumph of the townspeople of the fictional town of Chiriguana mirror many of the struggles suffered by ordinary people under the South American dictators. The magical realism of the second part of the book perfectly melds historical and contemporary events and provides a setting in which the human spirit, ingenuity and sheer courage prevail. It is a book that, in my view, deserves to be so much better known than it is.
We go back to Scandanavia for my third book. The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson starts conventionally enough but, within a few pages, we are launched into the most skilfully woven series of picaresque adventures you are ever likely to read. Hugely original, again beautifully structured and written, it will have you disturbing your fellow guests on their sunbeds with uproarious laughter. It appeals to that bloody-minded streak that all barristers should have and a sense of admiration for those who can beat the system through a combination of brains and endeavour. Perfectly judged, it is a true holiday delight.
My fourth book is entirely different. Peter Ackroyd’s London: the Biography is a treasure trove of historical fact, brilliantly researched and organised into chapters that cover, for instance, the history of light, the history of drink and the history of suicide. I always think that Ackroyd wears his erudition heavily but that is not meant to be a criticism. His scholarship is vast and his text is dense and full of detail, insight and surprise. This is a book that you could easily pick up for a chapter before returning to find out, for example how the hundred year old man finally outwits all those around him. Finally, a stirring tale of how a man from relatively humble origins rose to be a peer of the realm and one of its greatest sailors.
Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain by Steven Taylor, chronicles the life of Edward Pellew, from his birth in Dover as the son of a packet captain, his quarrels at school and his entry into the Navy as a 14-year-old runaway through his captaincy of HMS Indefatigable and other vessels during one of the most important and warlike phases in the history of the UK, consisting in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars and the battles of the Napoleonic period.
It is a story of courage, leadership and independent mindedness that should, again, strike a chord with everyone who practises at the Bar. Better than any fiction, because it tells a true story, it should keep the pages turning through the long, hot days of summer.
Vice-Chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC
I recently picked up the late Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence. It is a relatively short, but utterly gripping, read. Published in 1990, it is a thriller, full of suspense, and at the same time a story about the difficult moral choices facing the main character, a hotel manager in Belfast.
Moore, speaking to the New York Times about his book, talked about the “the dilemma of loyalty to family versus saving the lives of others” faced by hostages. This is at the heart of the book.
Another short read is Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. It tells the heartbreaking story of a young Irish girl immigrating to Brooklyn in the early 1950s, the challenges she faces far away from home and the tough decisions she has to make when she returns home for a family occasion.
The first two books are about the struggles faced by individuals, whereas Fragrant Harbour by John Lancaster is painted on a broader canvas where the characters relate to each other across time. Information is temporarily withheld from the reader and later provides the dramatic impetus to the development and resolution of the narrative. The beginning of the story, albeit not of the novel, is Tom Stewart’s departure in 1935 from his English family pub via the SS Darjeeling to Hong Kong. The book traces his assimilation into a different culture.
If you enjoy a good mystery or crime thriller, which is a weakness of mine, The Judge and his Hangman by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is a great read. This is a psychological thriller with a twist, which is partly advertised by the title of the novel, but the way in which the investigation of the crimes proceeds is both intricate and well plotted. It is not your average detective story, but rather a literary work which poses an interesting philosophical question, but to say more would spoil the read.
What do I have lying on my shelf to be read this summer? Middlemarch by George Elliott which I greatly enjoyed as a child and have been wanting to re-read for some time and The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin, a book about the internal workings of the US Supreme Court and the dynamics of the decision-making of the court.
Vice Chairman-Elect, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC