The call came at 2am. I was deep in a happy French holiday sleep. ‘There’s a fire.’ It was a neighbour. ‘We’re being evacuated.’ I struggled towards the surface. ‘We have to go now.’
I went to the window. There was no smoke, no flames. The phone rang again: my daughter, out clubbing across the bay. ‘Mum, there’s a fire. It’s behind you.’
I threw on clothes, woke the house and all five of us fled.
From the safety of the beach in the South of France last week, we watched the flames roar around the landscape, destroying livelihoods, charging towards our house on the hillside.
Gill Hornby picked Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise and a Steinbeck American classic to distract herself in troubled times
We consoled ourselves: at least we were all safe and together. Then, at dawn, the planes came and stopped the fire in its tracks. The village and our house were saved. We were so lucky and grateful.
Fleeing from danger and abandoning your way of life has an elemental horror to it. The Joads in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath are a farming family in Oklahoma in the Thirties, so their lives are hard enough. But, hit by drought and the Great Depression, they’re forced to leave.
Selling their possessions should pay for the journey. They expect at least $150; they get $18. It’s devastating. And it turns out it’s not only their things, but also their past and — terribly — their dignity that are gone.
In The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, mankind is under threat. The rotation of the Earth is slowing and days are getting longer.
Every week bestselling author Gill Hornby suggests key novels to help you through the trickier times in life
Seth is sickening with ‘the syndrome’, caused by changes in radiation, and fleeing to Mexico is his one chance to feel better.
Finally, Irene Nemirovsky brilliantly depicts the flight of citizens from Paris in 1940 in Suite Francaise. As people run from that gracious city, many values and standards are swiftly abandoned.
So thank goodness for the example set by the noble Michauds: they, too, lose the trappings of their civilised existence, but their own civilised standards remain intact.