Expert’s view

Lucy Kellaway: my five best books

The former FT journalist turned teacher chooses her favourite books by authors who came to writing late

Lucy Kellaway’s book, Re-educated – How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Husband and My Hair (Ebury £16.99), is out now.

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (1984) 

Lurie burst out of obscurity as an academic at nearly 60 to win the Pulitzer Prize with this novel about the romantic liaisons of two Americans abroad in London. I’d loved Jane Austen as a teenager, but Lurie is something else altogether in her merciless savagery. I’m re-reading all of her books this summer. Vintage £9.99; The Week Bookshop £7.99

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978)

Fitzgerald based her second novel on her experience of working in a bookshop in Suffolk – one of the many jobs she did to make ends meet before she became a literary sensation in her 60s. I read it again the other day and found it sadder and funnier than before – there is no better account of the pettiness of disputes in a small town. Fourth Estate £7.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)

McCourt did the opposite thing to me and was a secondary school teacher first and then a writer, with this account of his impoverished childhood in Limerick. It is the original misery memoir, but the quality of the misery is so intense and the writing so lyrical that the book is oddly uplifting. Harper Perennial £9.99; The Week Bookshop £7.99

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (2021)

This debut – written by a television executive in her late 50s – is about the messed-up East Coast intelligentsia, and its Long Island setting makes it the perfect beach read. My favourite character is the waspish mother who has the immortal line, “two things in life you never regret – a baby and a swim”. Viking £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

Spark was the daughter of a teacher and briefly one herself which may have informed this joyously naughty book. I set my heart on becoming a Brodie #2, but alas, I found that her teaching style doesn’t work in a Hackney comp. Penguin £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

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