Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1)
Northern Lights book. Read 21,807 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. When Lyra's friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantala...
The History of Love ~ Nicole Krauss. This novel about how the past can haunt and shape the present is moving, beautiful, and a virtuoso exercise in different narrative voices. Krauss’s characters are such a wonderful combination of poignancy and humour. It’s a novel you wish you could step into so that you could give the characters a hug.
Fugitive Pieces ~ Anne Michaels. This novel is an incredibly lyrical reflection on the aftermath of the Holocaust. When I first read Fugitive Pieces, it was a revelation – the novel’s language is pure poetry. I remember being amazed, thinking You can do that with language! Like me, Anne Michaels was a poet before becoming a novelist, and her poetic writing has been a huge influence on my work.
The Night Watch ~ Sarah Waters. Waters depicts the Blitz in London in extraordinarily evocative detail - but what stuck with me was the wonderful range of characters. The conversation about ‘strong women’ in fiction can get so tiresome – it tends automatically to see strong female characters as a noteworthy exception, while strong male heroes go unremarked. What I love about The Night Watch is that it allows its female characters to be authentically varied – both tough and vulnerable.
We Were the Mulvaneys ~ Joyce Carol Oates. One of the great American novels. This book traces the disintegration of a family after their daughter is raped. Although The Fire Sermon has elements of sci-fi and fantasy, at its core it’s about the bonds between family members, and that’s a topic that Oates dissects beautifully in this novel.
The Road ~ Cormac McCarthy. I never tire of reading this novel, and it was one of the greatest inspirations for the post-apocalyptic landscape of The Fire Sermon. The stripped-back starkness of McCarthy’s language is such a powerful part of the destroyed world that he evokes. It’s a novel that lodges in the mind, and the heart, and refuses to budge. I’ve not yet succeeded in reading the end without crying.
The Complete Poems ~ Anne Sexton. Her later poems get a bit scrappy and self-indulgent, but the earlier work is so powerful. Sexton’s narrative voice feels incredibly raw and direct (though this apparent lack of artifice is, of course, a carefully crafted effect). She also has a terrific ear for rhythm – there are lines in this collection that echo in my head for weeks after reading. The writers that I admire, including the novelists, all tend to have a poet’s awareness of sound.
When Will There Be Good News? ~ Kate Atkinson. I read a lot of crime fiction. The entire Jackson Brodie series is a delight, but this novel stands out because of the character Reggie. She’s one of my favourite contemporary heroines – intelligent, resourceful and hilarious. Atkinson’s writing combines humour, drama and pathos so skillfully. I was surprised when writing The Fire Sermon to find that humour was often creeping in, given the bleak scenario – but perhaps that’s what was necessary.
A Canticle for Leibowitz ~ Walter M. Miller. People sometimes talk about post-apocalyptic novels as though they’re a recent trend, but of course our fascination with the apocalypse goes way back (to Noah, and beyond). Of all the post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, I think Miller’s astounding 1960 novel has had the most enduring influence on me, and on The Fire Sermon. The final section, depicting a second nuclear catastrophe, is a chilling meditation on the cyclical nature of history.
Slattern ~ Kate Clanchy. Clanchy’s first collection of poetry is a delight. It’s only a slim volume, but it’s tightly crafted, witty and poignant. It was a real inspiration to me when I was starting out writing poetry, and I still return to it with admiration.
You can always rely on Austen for sharp wit and astute social observations, but what makes Emma so special is that it also offers us such a flawed and fascinating protagonist. Austen’s genteel, bucolic world seems a long way from the bleak post-apocalyptic landscape of The Fire Sermon, but Emma was an inspiration to me when I was trying to shape my central character, Cass. I wanted her to be complex and flawed.
Thank You, Jeeves ~ P.G. Wodehouse Because I write post-apocalyptic fiction, and because my academic research specialises in Holocaust literature, I’ve found the comic writings of Wodehouse have been a necessary counterpoint. Wodehouse is the great comic genius of the 20th century, and I’ve always turned to his books when I need lightness. This is a joyous dose of pure pleasure (and it features a psychotic, knife-wielding, communist butler, which is always a sign of a good book).
Beloved ~ Toni Morrison. This novel about slavery is terrifying and astounding. The structure of the novel – the way that it circles around the central trauma – is utterly brilliant. When I wrote my PhD on contemporary historical fiction, Beloved was one of the novels I focused on. The fact that I still adore Beloved, even after three years of studying it intensely, is a testament to the novel’s vibrancy and power.