Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands of the United Kingdom and lived in nine villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the London School of Economics and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a wooden house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s book club on ITV, shortlisted for the National Book Awards (UK), The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize, and was named a Telegraph book of the year. From the novel he says is a masterpiece, to the tale that made him cry; here are the eight books Will would take with him to the sandy shores of a desert island.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This is a divisive book because it’s bleak, but I find the small moments of beauty and love so powerful against that backdrop. McCarthy’s imagery and sense of place is astonishing. I adore the quiet opening line that sets the scene for the whole story, and the way the point of view subtly changes towards the end. It’s a masterpiece. You can taste that can of coca-cola, that tin of peaches, and you can feel the bond between the two main characters.
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
I’m in awe of this novel (A Kestrel for a Knave, later adapted into Kes by Ken Loach). A northern working-class town and a boy on the periphery. The dialogue is authentic, the nature-writing exquisite. There are particular scenes that I replay often in my mind: finding the kestrel, Billy Casper reading the falconry book, the fight in the playground, the football match. This book doesn’t pull any punches.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I’m still shocked this is a debut. One of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read, it spans centuries and continents. It is short. Not a word wasted. Yaa Gyasi manages to weave together so many families and stories, leaving the reader with the sense of having lived those lives and cared for those people.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This is the fifth novel from Sarah Waters, and it’s one of my favourite ghost stories. I’m a huge fan of this author and it’s a challenge to pick just one of her books, but The Little Stranger is special to me. Hundreds Hall, the setting for much of the novel, is beautifully rendered. You can almost feel the crumbling wallpaper, the ancient bells, the creaking staircases. The voice is so strong, and the character of Caroline Ayres is nuanced, complex and fascinating. As well as being an unnerving ghost story, this book explores themes of social change, relationships, and class.
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
A non-fiction choice. Robert Macfarlane’s sequel to A Journey On Foot is as profound as it is exquisitely-written. The nature descriptions are original and often poetic, transporting the reader underground to explore mines, caves, ancient catacombs, and sinkholes. The book is at times intensely claustrophobic, and manages to combine well-researched history and physical geography with hugely compelling narrative style.
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
This novel made me cry. Poignant, and written with tremendous warmth and kindness, the story centres around nine-year-old Leon, a mixed-race boy growing up in Birmingham the early 1980s. It’s about family and identity and the role of the state, and I recommend it to everyone.
Under The Skin by Michel Faber
This book is wild. Michel Faber is hugely talented, and his ambition is awe-inspiring. The first page pulled me in (Faber writes with such a strong, unique, clear narrative voice) and then by the time I realised what I was actually reading my mind was blown.
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg
My favourite Scandinavian novel. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg is a genre-defying novel of great charm. It probes some dark subjects (the Danish imperial legacy in Greenland for example), and the characters are intriguing and complex, but it is the way the author describes cold, Nordic weather that captivated me.
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