Sunday, 11 May 2014

What's your favourite book?

As soon as my book, The Housemaid's Daughter, had been published, people immediately wanted to know what I read, what my favourite book was!

And it's not an easy question to answer. I think favourite books are often defined in our minds by the era in which we happen to read them. For example, when I was a teenager, I began to read all of my father's second World War books, and that led me to First World war poetry, which I love, and thereby to All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I still think this is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read, but perhaps it was because that was the genre that captured me at that stage of my life...

My twenties were defined by the 1970s, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and free love! I read the affecting Daniel Martin by John Fowles, and on the non-fiction front, everything I could get my hands on about American politics and Watergate. And then there was the unforgettable duo of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk. These became, for me, an echo of the sharpness of Remarque's All Quiet...

In the 1980's, I discovered Toni Morrison's Beloved, which won the Pulitzer for fiction, and was later to influence me when I came to writing my own novel. Her uncompromising prose, her ability to look life in the face, makes it a read I will never forget.

In a gentler, more poetic vein,the 1990s saw the publication of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Was there ever a more lyrical, exquisitely written book? I still go back to it. As I do with The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver's masterpiece written against the backdrop of the Belgian Congo. And Imaginings of Sand, by Andre Brink, set in South Africa during a time of violent transition.

Since then, life has gathered pace - as it does when we get older! - and the brilliant books have come thick and fast, defying categorisation, or my particular age or interest. The Hours, The Garden of Evening Mists, The Book Thief, The Great Game, The Age of Wonder, Bring up the Bodies...

A life of reading is, I think, a life well lived.

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