Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec
I've only read this in David Bellos' excellent translation, but it's a vital touchstone for me, an astonishing feat of architecture. This is what novels can do that nothing else can do. If you think of the impact of the return of the main theme in the third movement of Rachmaninov's second piano concerto, or the moment the riff kicks in on 'Voodoo Child', this book induces that euphoria.
Season Of Migration To The North by Tayeb Salih
This deeply seductive novel taught me that it's ok for a book to admit it's a book, for storytelling to be about storytelling, for form to be acknowledged. So it made me think about what 'fabulous' can really mean, and connected me with the campfire spirit of any story. A very liberating lesson.
Amongst Women by John McGahern
I think McGahern peerless and the real serious business of saying things stems from him for me. My brother gave me his 'Memoir' one Christmas and the voice was like a storm happening. What he was capable of making clear about the stakes of a life, the vastness and littleness of a life, is astounding. Too many books aren't better than watching the TV. This changes the way I see every time I read it.
The Spire by William Golding
A high water mark in the history of prose style. What he does with the verb 'to love' is masterful and suffused with extraordinary feeling. Crucially, he also finds this intoxicating way of showing us the feeling buried in a landscape, connecting the burning of a soul with the visual surround, so that the whole of the world is speaking of the urge that animates the book.
Molloy by Samuel Beckett
I find this very moving, it's my favourite Beckett piece. It has immense heart in the way it treats of parent-child relationships, it says something very sad and true about being in the world, I think it offers a rich example of the way life can be used to make story, and it's deceptive simplicity - a voice speaking to you - I find magnetic.
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A Times bestseller
'Wonderful...I was hooked from the first page. It's the real stuff.' - Michael Frayn
'Deeply affecting' - Guardian
'Superb' - Mail on Sunday
'Barney Norris is a rare and precious talent' - Evening Standard
'There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.'
One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.