Let Me Introduce My Shelf: Ellen

Ellen Birch 1 February 2018

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

I recently decided to read more contemporary fiction, and let myself be guided by the prestigious Booker Prize: I came across this hardback edition of Julian Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending at a village fête in the summer. The story tracks the lives of a group of friends, before, during and after university, and is written retrospectively as the protagonist reviews his life. Being currently in the midst of my own university experience, many of the novel’s themes rang true. Reading the book feels a bit like being handed profound advice by an adult, warning you of their own mistakes and experiences at this stage of life, and is therefore very thought-provoking.

Leila Menchari, the Queen of Enchantment

During my year abroad internship at Hermès, I worked on an exhibition about Leila Menchari, a Tunisian artist who designed the company’s window displays for 60 years. One of my tasks as English copyeditor was to proofread the English novella which was written about Menchari’s life for the occasion. The story was long and repetitive but after it was published I was gifted a copy of the finished product. With an orangey-gold hardback cover, 95% of the book consists of glossy photos of her windows with the sparse text positioned among them. It is a simple story but the book is beautiful and lovely to flick through from time to time.  

They Came to Baghdad – Agatha Christie

There are of course multiple Agatha Christie stories on my bookshelves, but the one I like to have with me is They Came to Baghdad. This doesn’t fit into Christie’s usual calibre of murder mystery, but could be called a spy or action novel, taking place in Baghdad, and the protagonist has to navigate her way among various political groups. The plot is hazy in my mind, but when I first read it at the age of 15, the thing that stayed with me was the main character, Victoria Jones. She has a can-do attitude and is phased by nothing, and became my fiction role model. If I’m ever worried about something, I like to dip into this novel for some courage and inspiration.

Autumn – Karl Ove Knausgård

I have not yet read this book but am very excited to do so, and not only because of the aesthetic appeal of its beautiful cover. The book recently received a lot of newspaper coverage since it will form part of a seasonal quartet, similar to Ali Smith’s ongoing project. It was in the newspaper that I read a long extract from Autumn: the book takes the form of a letter written by a father to his unborn daughter, and each chapter focuses on tiny aspects of life, encompassing the mundane, the sordid, the abstract and the profound. Reading it is incredibly thought-provoking and reminds me of a more accessible version of some of the experimental French modern fiction I study for my degree.