The book I’m currently reading
I just finished Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño and Passion Simple by Annie Ernaux, both exceptional writers, and am about to plunge into two proof copies I’ve been sent – The Wisdom of Bones by Kitty Aldridge, and Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl.
My earliest reading memory
The Magic Bed Knob by Mary Norton. I used to love the idea that you could twist a bedknob and fetch up in some unexpected far-flung place. I wonder if my unending desire to live in other countries began with the image of three pyjama-clad children on a brass bed, suddenly and magically finding themselves transported to a beach in the Pacific.
The book that influenced my writing
I became obsessed with Thomas Hardy when I was 11. I read most of the novels, and copied all the poems out by hand. I even made a 150-mile pilgrimage to Dorset on my bicycle. My urge to write began with him. In my mid-teens, I joined Eastbourne public library, where I discovered books by Isak Dinesen, Vladimir Nabokov and Patrick Modiano. I’ve been reading them ever since. Lastly, Flannery O’Connor has been a kind of literary godmother to me. I’m continually drawn back to books such as The Violent Bear It Away. Her wise, spare sentences. Her quiet savagery. Her compassion.
The book that made me cry
Only one book has made me cry in recent years – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The book that is overrated
We live in an age of hype and overclaim. Almost every published novel has words like “mesmerising” or “irresistible” on the cover. Are they really all mesmerising and irresistible? It seems unlikely. Publishing is so praise-driven that superlatives have become devalued. I long to pick up a book and see the words “Quite good” on the front – or even, “Slightly disappointing”. With my first novel, I toyed with the idea of using a quote from my aunt: “If I had to read this again,” she’d told a member of my family, in confidence, “I think I’d be sick.” There are lots of overrated books out there, but you can’t tell which ones they are by looking at their covers. (Having said that, my latest novel is very definitely “a wonderful achievement”.)
The book I give as a gift
I used to give people either Coming Through Slaughter or In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje because they were beautiful and because nobody had heard of him. But then he won the Booker prize, and I decided he didn’t really need my help any more.
The book that changed my life
Would it be shameless to mention my own memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop? If I hadn’t started work on it, I would never have thought of looking for my youngest brother, who I hadn’t set eyes on for 23 years. Had I written something else, I doubt I would ever have seen him again. As it is, we’re now in constant contact, and my daughter has a brand-new uncle.
The book I wish I’d written
If I had to choose just one, it would be The Fruits of the Earth by André Gide. It’s a book like no other. A celebration, and a lament. A kind of hymn to the pleasure of being alive.
• Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson is published by Corsair. To order a copy for £7.91 (RRP £8.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
Latest posts by Elle - Reader of Books (see all)
- The Best Movies and TV Shows New to Netflix, Amazon and More in February - February 1, 2019
- The Book Review Podcast: Assessing the Facebook Problem - February 1, 2019
- Young adult author cancels own novel after race controversy - February 1, 2019