Cathy Rentzenbrink: My comfort reads

Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of  Dear Reader and A Manual for Heartache, shares her favourite comfort reads.

12/01/2018
2 minutes to read

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was still a teenager, her happy family was torn apart by an unthinkable tragedy. In book A Manual for Heartache she describes the experience of coming to terms with loss, offering advice for ways to cope with whatever life throws at you. Here, Cathy shares her comfort reads, the books she turns to time and again during dark times.

​"I’ve always loved books and reading, and ferreting out the life lessons hidden in everything from the Stoics to Narnia."
Cathy Rentzenbrink, A Manual for Heartache


I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

Book cover for 9781509843732

Cassandra is seventeen when she starts writing a diary into a sixpenny notebook while sitting in the kitchen sink. She writes about her once famous father who is struggling with writers’ block and does nothing apart from read detective novels, her outlandish stepmother who tries her best to eke out their supplies – the only thing they really have enough of is floor – and her beautiful older sister Rose who is considering going on the streets, though that might be hard to do in the depths of Suffolk. Then rich Americans come to live nearby and everything changes…

Mapp and Lucia

by E. F. Benson

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When Lucia comes to picturesque Tilling for the summer she is thrilled to find that there is plenty of intrigue as Miss Mapp, a globular woman with large teeth who looks rather like a hungry hyena, strives to keep hold of her role as Queen of Tilling. A battle commences for social supremacy as both ladies seek to woo their acquaintances with bridge parties, musical recitals and nougat chocolates. Who will triumph? Snobbery and spitefulness has never been so much fun.

The Pursuit of Love

by Nancy Mitford

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I could spend the rest of my life rereading this novel. Fanny’s own parents are not much interested in her so she spends most holidays with alarming Uncle Matthew, kindly but vague Aunt Sadie and her Radlett cousins who are full of charm and laughter. Linda is pursuing love but has to suffer through two boring husbands before being rewarded with the prize of a rich French Duke called Fabrice. This slim novel might be about love, but is infused with melancholy and loss, though another joke is never far away whenever a Radlett suffers.

The novels of P. G. Wodehouse

by P. G. Wodehouse

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Country estates, imposters, romances, stolen cow creamers and fat pigs… Wodehouse is enormous fun. Something Fresh is the first in the Blandings Castle series and a good place to start. There are some very good audio versions read by Martin Jarvis for when even reading feels like a bit too much effort. I listened to them in late pregnancy when moving around became too hard and I wanted to give myself and the baby a bit of a laugh. I’ve also recommended them as a good way to pass the time during the gruesome stages of chemotherapy.

Friday's Child

by Georgette Heyer

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Oh how I love Georgette Heyer who is a most underrated comic novelistic. Her best novels could be described as regency romances but that doesn’t begin to do justice to the sparkle and humour on offer. Some good ones are Arabella, Venetia, Frederica and Friday’s Child. She mocks the more obvious romantic hero type and her heroines are often not typical. Heyer writes drunkenness very well and has a good line in irresponsible brothers and their dopey friends. I rather long to reread them all in publication order.

The Man in the Brown Suit

by Agatha Christie

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I find crime novels set in the past extremely soothing, especially Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth and the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters.

I can’t ever work out why I get so much pleasure from rereading detective novels where I know the outcome, but I do. Perhaps it is something to do with seeing order restored. I enjoy the glimpses of social history offered in novels set in the first half of the twentieth century and find it satisfying to pick up incidental knowledge about marriage and divorce, the life of servants, rationing, education and how transport works. I get highly excited when a character goes down into a tube station that is no longer in use, or, as in The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie, gets in a lift that no longer exists.

Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Series

by Ellis Peters

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The Brother Cadfael novels are full of heart and have a pleasing ‘this too shall pass’ atmosphere about them. My favourite way to consume these is the audio versions read by Derek Jacobi. They really have held my hand through some dark times.


Writer and journalist Cathy Rentzenbrink's own books are also, not to be missed.

Dear Reader

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Book cover for 9781509891528

Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up with her nose in a book, they brought her joy, excitement and endless escapism. Then, when her family was struck by tragedy, books kept her afloat, and eventually they lit the way to a new path. Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.

A Manual for Heartache

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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When Cathy Rentzenbrink was still a teenager, her happy family was torn apart by an unthinkable tragedy. In A Manual for Heartache she describes how she learnt to live with grief and loss and find joy in the world again. She explores how to cope with life at its most difficult and overwhelming and how we can emerge from suffering forever changed, but filled with hope.

The Last Act of Love

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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In 1990, Cathy's brother Matty was knocked down by a car two weeks before his GCSE results. This is the story of what happened to Cathy and her brother, and the unimaginable decision that she and her parents had to make eight years after the night that changed everything. It's a story for anyone who has ever watched someone suffer or lost someone they loved or lived through a painful time that left them forever changed. Told with boundless warmth and affection, The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink is a heartbreaking yet uplifting testament to a family's survival and the price we pay for love.