Desert Island Discs, I might be a musician, but if I was stuck on a desert island I'd go spare without books. Like many a book lover I find it hard to say which is my favourite. At different times in my life I have had different favourites, some weather the years and stay triumphantly as all-time favourites, others fare less well.
I guess my list of Desert Island Books would currently include The Master and Margarita, One pair of hands, Tom Jones, The siege of Krishnapur, Ring out Bow Bells, The nine tailors, One hundred and one dalmatians, Death comes as the end, A tale of two cities and Andrew Greig's wonderfully moving That summer.
That summer is pure magic. Greig's background is as a poet, and this surely explains the wonderfully lyric writing of this book. That summer came out of a cycle of poems (which I have yet to read) by Greig and Kathleen Jamie A flame in your heart. That summer is a simple tale - two young people meet and fall in love against the background of a British summer of idyllic weather. But this is no ordinary summer, it is the summer of 1940, the summer of the Battle of Britain; and both Stella and her RAF boyfriend, Len, know that they may not have long together.
Told partly in Len's voice, part in Stella's, and with the occasional over-arching narrative, this is beautifully written. The basic tale may be simplicity itself, but Greig gets inside the minds of those living and fighting in that summer over 70 years ago. Poignant, heartbreakingly beautiful, That summer doesn't shy away from the realities of war. Inevitably, it is often very sad, but it is also a wonderfully life-affirming read.
I've loved this book since the first time I read it shortly after its publication in 2000, and every time I read it, I love it even more. It may have been that this time, having not read it for a while, the novel touched me even more deeply. I was aware that I was reading the novel at the exact time of year in which it was set - 73 years ago I could have been sitting outside in a hot summer, probably in uniform, looking up at the vapour trails of dog-fights in the skies above East Anglia.
That summer is also a tribute to a disappearing generation, disappearing then in 2000, even more so now. Indeed my father, who was in the RAF during the war (although not based in Britain) died a few years after the publication of the novel. Looking at his photo of a young man in tropical RAF uniform, I felt that Greig's book was a worthy tribute to that generation. A generation who are viewed, quite rightly, as heroes, but who were also just very ordinary young people, some of them soooo young, who liked to party and have fun, and make love, and want to live and enjoy life. The Times critic who reviewed this book says it all "It will be a long time before a novel makes you care as much." It's a beautiful, beautiful book, the kind that you just know will remain a loving companion for the rest of your life.