I’ve been a huge fan of Kate Mosse for long as I can remember. The first time I met her was after a Women’s Prize for Fiction event on the Southbank and I asked her what one book she would recommend to a willing reader; she quickly chose Wuthering Heights. Fortuitously, it was a book that featured on the BBC’s Top 100, a list that I was working my way through at the time, and I read it one dark and stormy weekend at my uncle’s farmhouse in Yorkshire, accompanied by copious cups of tea.
I recently read Kate’s newest novel The Burning Chambers, which, much like her previous books, is a compelling tale, and one I joyously raced through. And so, in celebration of the approaching publication date for the first in what will be a brilliant new trilogy from one of my very favourite authors, I couldn’t be happier to have the wonderful Kate Mosse take part in my Desert Island Books series. From the aforementioned Wuthering Heights, to a book about writing and a contemporary tale that takes place during the Nigerian Civil War, read on for the books that Kate would pack were she to find herself stranded on a faraway desert island.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
A story of obsessive love and revenge, a story of epic landscape and ghosts, a reflection on class, race and the injustice of women’s lives, of the interconnected fortunes of two families, Bronte’s masterpiece – published a year before her death in 1848 – remains the bigger influence on me as both a reader and writer. One of the most ambitious novels in the English language.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From a nineteenth century to a contemporary classic. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (then Orange Prize for Fiction) in 2007, this exquisite novel tells the story of Olanna, Ugwu and Richard before and during the Biafran/Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970. Displacement, personal versus political lives, how communities can turn on one another, the violence of the formation of States and the loss of individual identity, it’s a ground-breaking and magnificent novel.
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
When writing, I return to old favourites for my bedtime reading. Published in 1976 after Christie’s death – though written some thirty years earlier – this ‘last’ Miss Marple is a crime novel centred around recovered memory and how the sins of the past come back to haunt the present. Clever, creepy, thoughtful – a ‘gas-lighting’ story – at the heart of it is the relationship between women of different generations and trusting the evidence of one’s own eyes. Oh, and there’s a terrific twist!
Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
Though there are many books written by writers about writing, Margaret Atwood’s 2002 non-fiction work – based on a series of lectures – remains the gold standard. Part biography, part literary history, part memoir, it’s a superb reflection on what it means to write, how authors write and why. It’s truthful, engaging, hopeful and suffused with Atwood’s trademark wryness of tone and sly wit. A must-have for those of us who labour in the ‘word mines’ as well as readers.
King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard
Speaking of which, this celebrated 1885 adventure story – while very much of its time and place in its 19th century imperialist attitudes & values – remains a wonderful, fast-paced adventure story with a great (and often less than heroic!) hero, Allan Quartermain, who swashbuckles his way across the continents and pages. My father first read it aloud to me when I was little, and the memory of that excitement, the jeopardy, the peril remains with me nearly fifty years later …
The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory
No one does historical fiction better than Philippa Gregory, and her debut novel (1992) combines all the qualities of scholarship and storytelling that have since made her a worldwide bestseller – a genuine and authentic sense of period, a way of bringing new life to a familiar time in history, a combination of research and storytelling. Most of all, she puts women’s voices centre stage.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Set in 1941, Morrison’s beautiful and uncompromising first novel is a heart-breaking story of powerlessness, race, poverty and what it means to be female. The narrative is centred around Pecola – a young African-American girl growing up in Ohio in the years following the Great Depression – and the hardships, abuses and misunderstandings of her life. The voices of Claudia, the daughter of Pecola’s foster parents, and a narrator, add to the sense of dislocation and tragedy. Essential reading and a novel which changes with each rereading.
Affinity by Sarah Waters
Set in London in the 1870s, this is a duet between two very different women; Margaret, unhappily married – and recovering from both the death of her father and her own failed suicide attempt – becomes a ‘Lady Visitor’ to Millbank Prison. There she becomes enanced – obsessed? – by Selina Dawes, a medium of spirits. Bristling with atmosphere of time and place, it’s a novel of eroticism, of longing and of what it means to be ‘other’ in a world where women’s lives are so limited by Society.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
In January 1818, this brilliant novel – about the terrible consequences of ambition, of the battle between science and God, about love and the withholding of love, of light and dark, creation and destruction, what it means to make life and to fear death – was first published anonymously. Shelley started the novel when she was eighteen and had already suffered great tragedy in her life. This sense of grief, despair and loss infuses every beautiful page. Two hundred years after its first publication – and never out of print – it continues to speak to readers of all ages. A Gothic masterpiece.
The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse is released on May 3rd 2018. Can’t wait til then to get started? Read an exclusive extract here.
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