Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd

Barbara Euphan Todd is best-known as the creator of Worzel Gummidge. But before she got into tales of scarecrow folk, she also wrote this engaging curio: Miss Ranskill Comes Home is the story of a British woman who has been marooned on a desert island, presumed dead. When Nora Ranskill returns to England, World War…

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Sometimes the spaces between the lines, and the words unsaid, are as important as what’s on the page. Writing about another Penelope Fitzgerald book, The Beginning of Spring, the great novelist Penelope Lively wonders that the author manages ‘an amazing re-creation’ of Moscow in 1913, despite having visited Russia ‘once, briefly, and obviously not in…

The Understudy by David Nicholls

The Understudy could have been a morality tale of an innocent’s bargain with devil – except that the devil is a vain, stupid, unfeasibly handsome actor in a plausibly dire-sounding West End ‘life of Byron’ called Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. Josh Harper is treading the boards in between conquering Hollywood; his understudy and…

Arnhem by Antony Beevor

If students at the Netherlands military staff college suggested attacking Arnhem by taking the Nijmegen road, they were failed on the spot. Such a plan of attack would be doomed: it was only wide enough for tanks to go single file, with the polders at either side too soft to allow them to traverse. Even…

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

‘I say, what’s that chap doing behind the beach hut?’ The ‘Sound Charades’ round of Radio 4 comedy quiz I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue once used this sentence to describe The Riddle Of The Sands. It’s an excellent joke. There aren’t so many laughs in the book. The sandbanks of the title are around…