It’s always interesting when a friend puts a book into your hands and says, “Have you read this?”

It happens to me quite a lot, and I usually make the effort to read the book, even if it’s not the type I normally read – well, especially if it’s not the type I normally read. I regard this sort of happenstance as a message from the gods of helpful things saying, “Try this. It’ll do you good.”

As a writer, of course, words are my stock in trade and reading something outside my usual comfort zone gives me a fresh view on interesting ways to string them together.  It really is good for me, then – but I do need a serendipitous push to get me started. So when my friend Diane turned up at the Off the Cuff writing group waving an unfamiliar book, I made an undignified grab for it.

The book was P D James’ The Children of Men. Now this is a famous book written in the early 1990s, made into an even more famous film later on.  I had managed to miss it in both incarnations. If you haven’t met with it I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s one of those depressing visions of the near future that I generally avoid. I do like a happy ending, after all.

For all that, I thought it a wonderful book; harrowing, for sure, and especially so for showing many of its characters in ordinary, recognisable domestic situations. As you’d expect from P D James, it’s beautifully written: the unhurried prose, perfect pacing and sense of gradual realisation that comes over the reader feels effortless. As a writer, I know it isn’t.  It’s the kind of book you put down in reading to stop and have a think. I did. It’s not an easy read, and I don’t think I shall want to read it again, but I won’t forget it. Some books just stay with you, and this is one of them for me.

So do go and read something from outside your comfort zone now and then. It’s good for you. I certainly shall.

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