Margot – book blogger extraordinaire over at Project Lectito and soon-to-be published author of YA novel Neverland – is one of my very favourite bookish people. Despite the fact that we’ve not yet met, we connected a couple of years ago via our book blogs and have been firm online friends ever since, exchanging book recommendations a-plenty. From the book that inspired me to read the BBC top 100 to a contemporary classic beloved by readers across the globe, find out below which eight tomes she’d pack for essential desert island reading.
Were I to be marooned on a desert island with just eight books, I’d want them to be transporting and immersive—the kind of books that can be read over and over and offer more with each rereading. I’m a sucker for a fancy prose style, and love stories with a little darkness in them. A gripping plot, vivid setting, compelling characters and hidden depths are also a must.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I first read Tartt’s precocious debut as an undergrad, and despite the murder and misdeeds at its heart, I spent many happy hours willing myself into Julian Morrow’s classics tutorials and Francis Abernathy’s country house. The story is an invitation into a hidden world, treacherous as it is enchanting, in which nothing is as it first appears and every rereading leads you further down the rabbit hole. I went on to write a significant chunk of my PhD thesis on The Secret History and suspect it will be a firm favourite for life.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca was another book I encountered during my uni years. I fell in love first with Manderley and Maxim de Winter and later (as my feminist sensibilities developed) with the struggle between the two Mrs de Winters and the ‘mad woman in the attic’ and ‘angel in the house’ archetypes that they represent. Though I’ve reread it many times, the story remains tense and atmospheric, and includes some of my favourite things: murder, mystery, sailing, romance, a cute dog and a damn fine garden—it’s a perfect fantasy. Also, being an homage to Jane Eyre, it’s really two of my favourite books for the price of one. Bonus.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
It’s a bit cheeky to include a second du Maurier on this list, but I couldn’t resist (it was tough to limit it to two) and this feminist pirate romance set in rugged Cornwall is cherished favourite. As in Rebecca, there’s a lot of wish fulfilment in this story—thrilling adventures, illicit trysts and sexy, sexy pirates—but it’s also a story about a woman torn between domesticity and wildness, a woman who tries to have it all but ultimately has to make a choice and a sacrifice.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I had no idea Elizabeth Gilbert wrote fiction until a friend pressed The Signature of All Things into my hands. Gilbert is arguably more famous for her self-help-y titles, but I’m telling you: her fiction is where it’s at. The Signature of All Things is a sprawling adventure spanning decades and continents—a story of science, art, love, family, faith and loss. But it’s Alma Whittaker, the book’s unlikely heroine, that wins it a place on this list. An eccentric heiress whose study of mosses and yearning for love takes her around the world, she’s clever and courageous with bags of swagger, yet endearingly naïve—the kind of person I could spend a lot of time with.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
In year eight, on a school excursion to the Art Gallery of South Australia, I encountered John William Waterhouse’s 1892 painting, Circe Invidiosa, and the rage I saw in Circe’s eye sparked a life-long fascination with the furious women of Greek mythology. Fates and Furies pulses with that same anger, bringing the force of an ancient epic into a story of modern domesticity. It’s a war cry.
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Highsmith is my longstanding travelling companion. I binge read her particular brand of crime while backpacking up the east coast of the United States and across western Europe in my early twenties and her books are stamped with memories of train journeys and long-haul bus rides through strange landscapes. The Talented Mr Ripley was the first of her works that I read and remains a particular favourite.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
This has been my go-to comfort read since early high school; it’s an adventure I want to go on again and again. It’s also a story that teeters on the point between innocence and experience. I was on the outer edge of childhood when I fist read it and it takes me back to that feeling of being on the cusp and of starting to question things I’d previously taken on faith.
The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
Marion ‘Joe’ Carstairs is my hero: a real-life, cross-dressing Peter Pan who came of age in the literary salons of Paris, befriended the likes of Dolly Wilde and Evelyn Waugh and became a world champion speed boat racer and mechanic before establishing herself on a private island where she had affairs with movie stars and ran a rum-smuggling operation during US prohibition. She was also oddly besotted with a doll named Lord Tod Wadley. Her life was riddled with the kinds of details editors would dismiss as too outlandish for fiction and Kate Summerscale is a worthy biographer.
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