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Where to start reading Anne Tyler

Over the course of half a century, American author Anne Tyler has earned comparisons to Jane Austen. Claire Allfree guides you through the essentials of her 24 novels.

A photograph of Anne Tyler next to a collage of her book jackets
How many have you read? Image: Vicky Ibbetson/Penguin

Over the course of 24 novels, produced during a fifty year period, Anne Tyler has established herself as one of America's greatest living novelists, compared to our very own Jane Austen for her handle on the richness of domestic life and admired by writers from John Updike to Nick Hornby, who once said he didn't know how to write until he picked up one of her books.

Such a reputation might feel daunting to anyone who has yet to discover her, yet there is nothing remotely daunting about a Tyler novel itself – to open one is akin to opening the front door to someone else's house in Baltimore, where nearly all her books are set, and settling down at the kitchen table. Her territory is small town American family life in all its complicated sadness, absurdity and resilience, and, like Updike, she “gives the mundane its beautiful due”, detailing the tensions, misunderstandings and secrets that can accumulate within a marriage in ways that allow the ordinary and extraordinary to coexist. What's more she does so using the most seemingly ordinary of tools – her prose is plain, her plots uncomplicated, her settings instantly familiar, her characters apparently unremarkable.

Nearly all her novels are worth spending time with but if you want to know where to start, here's a guide to some of her very best.

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