I was lucky enough to meet Sydney-based columnist, journalist and author, Jacqueline Maley, a couple of months ago, when she came to my apartment to sign copies of her debut book, the brilliant The Truth About Her. We actually recorded my podcast that very day, and so I got to talk to her in detail about why she chose each of the following books. You can listen to it here.
From a classic tome she often re-reads, to a book by an underrated Australian writer, here are the eight books Jacqueline would take with her to the sand shores of a desert island.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I am re-reading this at the moment – it is my all-time favourite book. I love Jane’s independence and integrity, and the way she strives to master some parts of her personality while holding onto her true self. She is unapologetic in sticking to her values, even against great adversity. Jane has this intense struggle to maintain her sense of self while meeting her underlying desire to be loved. Ultimately, her self-respect always wins and in that sense Jane was a revolutionary heroine.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
I was really beguiled by this book on a number of levels – the structure is intricate and loops back and forth through time in a way that is masterful. The book’s theme is one close to my heart – who owns a family’s story? And the messiness and tenderness of the complex blended family is so well rendered. It is multi-perspective as well which I think is really hard to pull off.
This book is dark and wild and bonkers and I loved it. When I read it, it cracked open a new way of writing for me – Moshfegh writes freely and makes her protagonist very ugly (in a moral sense) even though she is physically beautiful. The structure has built-in tension because it is set in New York the year before September 11 so the reader knows what is coming but the characters don’t. It is a very clever device.
Actress by Ann Enright
It was a toss up between this book and Green Road, which I also love so much. Actress is about a mother/daughter relationship and the ruin of a passionate, strong woman living in a misogynistic world. It is about myth-making, the portrait of a woman who creates herself from scratch. I love the portrayal of maternal love and how it is written from the point of view of a daughter who retains a child-like awe and idealisation of her glamorous mother.
The Master by Colm Toibin
This is Toibin’s masterpiece about Henry James’ life and it is an incredible psychological study of the great novelist. It is not structured like a traditional narrative, instead focusing on significant times and relationships in James’ life. Toibin’s tone is tender and knowing and restrained, and just perfect.
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
It was a tough call between this and Olive Kitteridge. This book is Strout at her finest – she renders the inner lives of ordinary people in such a humane and witty and sad way, it is just masterful. All of life and all of humanity is in this book.
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
I read this book last year and I was struck by how modern its themes were, even though it was written set in 19th century Russian, among the nobility. It is about the struggle between generations and how the younger generation scorns the ideals of the older, and the dismay at the older generation at having their finely laid principles trashed by the young ones! It is also just a fun romp, and tragic, coz it’s Turgenev and he is one of the Russian greats – they don’t tend to write happy books.
The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower
Harrower was such an interesting, brilliant and (still) underrated Australian novelist. This book is an incredible portrait of female oppression and psychological torture. It is really the first and last word when it comes to depicting an abusive domestic dynamic. It is heart-rending and heart-stopping in portraying domestic danger
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