Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is English author Liz Jensen.
Liz was born in Oxfordshire, the daughter of a Danish father and an Anglo-Moroccan mother.
She has worked as a journalist, a TV and radio producer, and a sculptor, before turning to fiction writing. She has eight novels to her name, including Egg Dancing (1995), Ark Baby (1997), The Paper Eater (2000), War Crimes for the Home (2002), The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (2004), My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time: A Novel (2006), The Rapture (2009) and The Uninvited (2012).
She has been nominated three times for the Orange Prize for fiction and her work has been published in more than 20 countries.
Without further ado, here are Liz’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
I have many favourite books, including Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, JM Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K, Angela Carter’s Wise Children, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. But my most recent literary crush is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s about the woes, delights and absurdities of a group of people moving in and out of New York, across 20 years. That doesn’t sound too special — until you read it.
Egan’s wild experimentalism, needle-sharp humour and brazen chutzpah transform disparate slices of ordinary lives into a luminous, crackling read. Her apparently freewheeling format is cleverly untraditional, her authorial eye is quirky and her writing, line for line, is to die for. As soon as I had finished it I started reading it all over again. And hugging myself in delight.
It’s exciting to encounter fiction that makes you say to yourself, “I want to do that too. And one day I’m going to try”. For me, the eureka moment came when I read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, at the age of 15. It rocked my little adolescent world, like a drug I had craved without knowing it. I had always wanted to be a writer, but something about Peake’s work — which is fantasy in a class of its own — gave me permission. Peake wrote about that feeling too, when he described “the sheer excitement of having a sheet of white paper and a pen in my hand and no dictator on earth can say what I put down”.
Peake’s imagination is huge, and the dysfunctional, claustrophobic, grand-guignol world of Gormenghast castle, packed with grotesque characters portrayed with savage humour, is fittingly gargantuan. Lush, graphic, and vertiginously original, the Gormenghast trilogy is a reading milestone in my life. When I doubt what I am doing, which is rather often, I remember my Peake epiphany.
When I read Cormac McCarthy’s astoundingly bleak post-apocalyptic fable The Road, one of my reactions was to think: “McCarthy’s nailed this one. Nobody will ever write better about a ruined world than him.” But then in 2009 along came Marcel Theroux’s vividly-imagined, wonderfully strange and atmospheric Far North. It’s set in the frozen wastes of the Siberian Arctic, to which hordes of pioneer-refugees settled, pre-empting collapse in the US. Theroux never reveals what form the apocalypse took, but when we join the central character, Makepeace, it is an event in the distant past. Makepeace finds evidence of another community beyond the frontiers she knows, and is catapulted on a journey to an even bleaker reality than the one she was born into. Trapped in a futuristic gulag, a gripping, tautly-written drama unfolds. I read Far North in one sitting, two years ago, and it has lingered in my mind ever since.
Thank you, Liz, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I’ve not read any of these books, though all three have been on my radar for some time — and I have an illustrated version of the Gormenghast trilogy on my bookshelves waiting for that moment I feel brave enough to tackle it.
What do you think of Liz’s choices? Have you read any of these books?