17 January 2018

Rabbit, Run

John Updike

Updike captures marriage, parenting, domestic life and adult existential anxiety beautifully. He is full of wit, his dialogue is sharp and probing, he evokes the natural world with great vividness and exactitude. But why are his female characters often witnessed only at arm’s length, as desperate, misunderstood, decaying, acerbic, emotionally frail? This book, as well as Couples, made me want to write her side of the story, while keeping his.

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

I love all Jean Rhys's books for their emotional honesty and exactitude. Her writing is full of courage even as she is often portraying women who do not feel courageous inside, yet cannot help but act according to their own sense of what is right, which is a kind of natural bravery. The power of her work empowers me in my commitment to portraying emotional and psychological truth.

 

The Temple of My Familiar

Alice Walker

The kindness and wisdom of Alice Walker’s writing was one of the things in my late teens and early twenties that helped me to discover who I was. She has helped many women in the same way, and it is this element of social conscience that makes her work so precious – literature entertains, but it also has an enormous capacity for comfort and guidance. ‘Helped are those who are content to be themselves,’ she writes here, ‘they will never lack mystery in their lives’.

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

I enjoyed Anna Karenina more, but I admire this book for the scope of its ambition, the attempt to capture a particular section of society at an important historical moment. The characters are brought tangibly to life through an intense scrutiny of their internal thoughts and feelings, and just as importantly through their physical manifestations and environments. Tolstoy describes everything, and therefore we witness everything. That is his genius. And he is full of heart with it. 

Other Stories and Other Stories

Ali Smith

I first read this years ago when I was trying to write my first novel 26a. I am naturally drawn towards writers who are fearless, who fly in the face of accepted form and convention and dare to do something different. Ali Smith does that with every book she writes, and she does so with a consistent warmth and playfulness and infectious humour. These stories are so outlandish yet so grounded in realism, they conjure the notion that anything is possible.

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