Author Claire Fuller leans on a sofa in front of a window.

Claire Fuller is the type of author you’d swear was simply born an author: such is her way with words that all of her first three novels – 2015’s Our Endless Numbered Days, 2017’s Swimming Lessons and 2018’s Bitter Orange – won notable book awards. It’s shocking then, to learn that Fuller actually began her career as a sculptor.

Yet, since she began writing at 40, she’s established herself as a dependably incredible novelist, and her latest keeps up the streak: Unsettled Ground tells the story of unusual 51-year-old twins Jeanie and Julius, who live a peaceful, rural life still living with their mother – until her death reveals a series of secrets and betrayals that threaten their existence. And now, just a fortnight ahead of its release, it has already been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

To celebrate the occasion, we asked Fuller to pick a handful of must-read books she’s devoured recently. Delve into her thoughtful picks below.

Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen (translated 2021)

I read these as separate memoirs, known as The Copenhagen Trilogy, but they’re now available in this single volume. Ditlevsen has a wonderfully naïve yet knowing voice. Her writing feels incredibly frank and truthful – although these books are so short, they make me wonder what she chose to leave out. As the titles suggest, they cover her childhood (she was born in Copenhagen in 1918), her teenage years, and when she is slightly older and has three children and three marriages, and is addicted to prescription drugs. The books are full of longing: longing to write, longing to be published, and most of all, longing to be loved. The writing feels very fresh and I challenge anyone to read these books and not fall for their humour and poignancy.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray (2020)

Carys Bray is brilliant at writing about the little incidentals of family life – those irritations and moments of joy. And here, in When the Lights Go Out, she also deals with eco-catastrophe as the waters rise around a family's house. Chris is an eco-zealot, secretly switching off the electricity to see whether his family would manage when the lights go out permanently. Emma is trying to make little adjustments and hold her family together, while recognising that her marriage is struggling. It’s bleak and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and just how Bray balances a book along that fine line is wonderful. (And I have to say, I recognised some of the characters amongst my own family – and no, I'm not going to say which ones.)

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (1956)

I loved this short novel, first published in 1956, about West Indian immigrants coming to London. Narrated by Moses, who has already been in London for several years, we see him and his friends as they try to get work, find places to stay, pick up women, and borrow and lend money. It’s written in dialect, which is partly what brings these men and their characteristics to life. Having read lots of novels set in ’50s London written by white women (also often with characters just scraping by), it was so interesting to see the place and time from a different perspective.

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter (2014)

How have I never heard of this book until only last year? It is exactly the kind of novel I like to read: layered, ambiguous, thoughtful, beautifully written, and with a strong narrative. When Jane was 15, Lily, the child she was minding, vanished when they were on a walk. The disappearance has haunted Jane into adulthood, shaped her decisions about work, relationships and study. Jane is obsessed with two things: a girl known only as N who disappears from the pages of history in a similar location to Lily, and William Eliot, Lily’s father. When Jane meets William again after more than 15 years, it doesn’t go as she has always imagined, and the meeting forces her into action. Following Jane around is a group of ghosts who talk about themselves in the first person plural and are trying to work out who they are and why they are here. If that sounds ridiculous, it isn’t – I found the ghosts very moving.

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming (2019)

Laura Cumming writes beautifully, and this is such an intriguing story. As a three-year-old girl in 1929, Cumming’s mother is taken off a beach in Lincolnshire and returned home three days later. As she grows up she doesn’t remember any of this, or her life before she was three. Cumming pieces together the story from a short unpublished memoir of her mother’s, photographs (about which Cumming writes with wonderful precision), and some interviews and correspondence. Surprise after surprise arrives, revealing the circumstances of her mother’s birth and early history. I loved it.

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne (1997)

Marsha is looking back to a couple of months in the summer 1972 when she was a child and her father left her mother for her aunt. At the same time a boy she knows only a little, and doesn’t really like, is molested and murdered in her neighbourhood. Hot days and boiling nights make everyone in the claustrophobic suburbs suspicious of strangers until the undercurrent of hysteria bubbles up into a terrible accusation. This book positively simmers. But don’t expect a crime novel; it’s more about asking why we do the things we do, and not always knowing the answer.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller is out this month.

  • Unsettled Ground

  • Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls they make music, in its garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

    But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother's secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake. This is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.

  • Buy the book

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