Without question, the thing I love most about my blog, is the opportunities it has given me over the years. From taking part in a memoir writing retreat on Lake Atitlan led by one of my all-time favourite writers, to spending a week in Indonesia to find out about the country’s literacy scene, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to turn my passion for books into my career.
And while travel is still off the cards – thanks to the global pandemic that is Covid-19 – I’ve been lucky enough to invite a number of incredible authors to take part in my Desert Island Books series, while we all continue to dream of the day that far-flung travel is a reality once more. I remember studying – and loving – Hideous Kinky for my degree in English Literature many moons ago, and so it was an incredible honour to invite author Esther Freud – whose ninth novel, I Couldn’t Love You More – has recently been published – to share her desert island books on my blog. From her favourite childhood series to her ultimate desert island book, here are the eight books Esther would take with her to the sandy shores of a desert island.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingles Wilder
I loved this series of books as a child, the way Wilder wove stories from her own life. The slow pace, the surprising tension, the small family surviving in the great expanse of nature.
Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys
This is the book that made me think about the possibility of writing my own novel one day. The prose is so light and clear, and the subject matter so subjective – a book based on Rhys’s own experience of arriving in London from Domenica, it gave me a splinter of hope.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A gritty, beautiful novel of poverty, resilience and redemptive love. It fuelled me with a belief in the deepest of soul connections that at times has led me astray.
A Strange Eventful History: The dramatic lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their Remarkable Families by Michael Holroyd
Holroyd is the master of biography, and this is the most ambitious and mesmerizing of his many books. He brings to life two great 19th Century actors from very different backgrounds and creates the passion, chaos and inventiveness of their lives. Story after story unfolds, marriages, scandal, bankruptcy, children – cherished and abandoned – and always, another theatrical production involving leaps of faith, trains full of props, transformation and dreams.
Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo
I was staggered by the accumulating stories in this book, each one more powerful than the last. A writer reaching her peak, and in full control of her material.
Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
I’m a big Waugh fan. He’s so brilliant about people and his dialogue sparkles like no one else’s. This is my favourite. Funny as ever, but heart breaking too, with the most haunting ending.
A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson
I love the scope of this book and the honesty and insight the author brings to just how much strength, inspiration and damage is passed down the line from mother to daughter, generation after generation.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My ultimate desert island book. A great and haunting novel, dense with history, philosophy and romance. Story telling at its best.
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