Triple Choice Tuesday: Kate Manning

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 author Kate Manning.

A former documentary television producer (and winner of two Emmy awards), Kate has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Book ReviewGlamour and More, among other publications.

She is an adjunct  faculty member of the English Department at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan and has two novels to her name: Whitegirl (2002) and My Notorious Life by Madame X (2013), which I reviewed yesterday.

Without further ado, here are Kate’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:


SecretScriptureA favourite book: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

Since I love so many books, it seems wrong to have a favorite in the same way it’s wrong to have a favorite child, but, I will here admit that my current darling is The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. This novel wins my love for the poignancy of its story, about Roseanne Clear McNulty, an ancient inmate of what used to be called a lunatic asylum.

The sheer beauty of its startling language possessed me from the minute I began to read. Every page offers a sentence, a metaphor, a way of seeing that brings Roseanne’s voice and her many secrets alive. Her story feels immediate and important, told right from the gut. And yet, the language is not the language of a show-off, it does not interfere, but carries a reader along in a torrent akin to music. The imagery is sublime: “My little breast beating as if there was an uncomfortable pigeon trapped there”; “He was cleaner than the daylight moon.”

For a novelist, this one at least, reading fiction can become more difficult over time, since writers are too aware of how a story is made, the tricks and devices the storyteller employs. If these are too obvious or common, I tend to put the work aside. So to read Barry is pure pleasure. The Secret Scripture, as it moves along through lovely Roseanne’s past in Sligo, Ireland, weaves her voice with the voice of Dr. Greene, who has looked after her in the hospital for many years.

The story is driven not just by language, but by questions of plot that keep you galloping forward. Why is Roseanne locked away? Is she mentally ill? A casualty of politics? War? And what has become of her family? Her true love? What will become of her? The answers as she supplies them form a story so enchanting and moving that as a writer my reaction was pure awe. And this despite an ending that I did see coming a ways off—but no matter.

It’s a great read. Barry has a great deal to teach, and as I approach the writing of my next novel I will be looking to his work for lessons, as indeed I have already, devouring his other work with a hunger I haven’t felt since I was first discovering books.


Down-by-the-RiverA book that changed your world: Down by the River by Edna O’Brien

What is it about Irish writers? What do their mothers feed them, or paint on their tongues so that their sentences are so gorgeous and startling? Edna O’Brien’s novel Down By the River took me by the gizzard and has yet to let go. It tells a riveting and powerful story, one taken straight from the headlines, a reworking of something that really happened. It was that transformation — of history into art — that so dazzled me and showed me new possibilities.

Mary McNamara, the young girl at the heart of the story, is alone with a terrible secret. She’s pregnant, and the reason why is too heinous for her to reveal. She leaves home, a slip of a girl only 13 years old, wanting to end her pregnancy. But abortion is illegal in Ireland, and she must find a way to evade the law, her own family, and the political and religious forces who seek to make a lesson out of her, so she can travel to England where pregnancy termination is legal.

This novel, inspired by the famous 1992 “X” case in Ireland, opened my eyes to what a novelist could do with real events. It was this book that made me realise you can read all the headlines and history books you want, but if you desire an answer to the questions: what was that like? How must it have been? you must turn to novels. It is fiction that fills in the cracks of history, fiction that opens us to the emotion and the nuance, and brings alive the experience of people whose stories remain hidden, anonymous.

Heroes and stars and the rest of the powerful may write the first draft of history, but the second draft and afterwards belongs to characters like the compelling, heartbreaking Mary McNamara, and the novelists like O’Brien who tell their stories in such indelible prose we will be reading them for generations.

As a reader, I am only gripped by a novel if the voice on the page captivates me, and in Down by the River, O’Brien spins the English language to gossamer and steel. She has dazzling technique, and performs feats of difficulty, mixing tenses and points of view, and shifting back and forth in time in seemingly effortless fashion.

While it deals with a polarizing issue, Down By the River is absolutely not a rant. Not polemical. It’s a cry from the heart. While writing my own novel, My Notorious Life By Madame X, which deals with the same polarizing issue, I took courage and guidance from O’Brien’s example.


BonePeopleA book that deserves a wider audience: The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Keri Hulme, a New Zealand writer, won the Booker prize for The Bone People in 1985, and has yet to publish another novel. This book is not well known in the States, and there may be many readers now who are unaware of this extraordinary work. It impressed me deeply with its mystery, violence, tenderness and evocation of a world entirely unfamiliar to me.

The story, set on the coast of New Zealand, is about Kerewin, a reclusive woman whose world is upended when a mute, quasi-magical boy named Simon shows up at the tower she has built to escape into solitude. Kerewin is soon entangled with Simon and his Maori foster father, Joe, and sets out to understand the mystery of the boy’s origins. Kerewin’s own mysteries unfold along the way.

The writer’s language — a mix of English and a few words of Maori, of slang and poetry — combines to create a dazzlingly unique voice on the page. The muscular beauty of Hulme’s sentences compels me to press this book on readers who ask: what should I read next? Again and again I give them The Bone People, and I hope readers will continue to discover it.

Thank you, Kate, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I’m so delighted that two Irish novelists and an Antipodean are featured here, given my own preference for fiction from those two ends of the world. I’ve read and reviewed The Secret Scripture and The Bone People, but haven’t read Edna O’Brien’s Down by the River which has promptly gone onto my wishlist.

What do you think of Kate’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

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9 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: Kate Manning

  1. Down by the River has just gone on my wishlist too! Kate Manning has made it sound fantastic! I also loved The Bone People and really should get around to reading my copy of The Secret Scripture one day. Great selection of books!

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  2. Hullo! I’ve read your blogs from time to time, always with great enjoyment and inspiration for further reading,
    I’ve had ” The Bone People” on my shelves for some time, always intending to read it and then another book suggestion comes along to distract me. I MUST get down to it – it seems I’m missing something special.
    The Edna O’Brien is equally enticing. I used to read her a lot in the 60’s. That shows my age! But, I haven’t read this one.
    I wish I could read as quickly as you seem to do – I’m missing out on so many literary experiences.
    By the way, do you ever suffer from reader’s block? I hate it when I do as I feel deprived of so many valuable experiences which books provide me with.

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  3. The Bone People was one of my favourite reads at least twelve years ago, and have since bought another copy which I mean to read, though the small print is rather off-putting.
    Do make The Secret Scripture your next read, Jackie; I couldn’t get this book out of my head for days, and found it difficult to read another book soon after, it made such an impression on me.

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  4. Thanks for your lovely comment, Delyn.
    Oh yes, I do go through phases of reader’s block. The cure is usually just to have a rest from reading for awhile, and then when I feel ready to get back into it I tend to select a crime thriller or a novel by one of my favourite writers to get back into the swing of things.

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  5. I loved The Secret Scripture, too. Sebastian Barry is a favourite author. I have read all his books and found them all enjoyable.

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  6. Hi Gillian, apologies but your comments keep going into spam. I think it’s because you use my URL. You don’t need a URL to comment (just an email address), so probably best to just leave the URL blank.
    Glad to hear you are also a fan of The Bone People and The Secret Scripture.

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  7. I’m fast becoming an Edna O’Brien fan having recent,y seen her speak at the Hay Literary Festival. An extraordinary life and a writer who deserves more exposure. Down by the River sounds wonderful. I just hope the library can get it for me.
    Karen@bookertalk.com

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  8. I have read both The Secret Scripture and The Bone People, both favourites, although I found The Bone People quite confronting. I have immediately ordered Down By The River and Madame X from the library – Down By The River sounds so good and I love the short extract of writing here from Kate Manning – I just have to read her work (and I was quite taken with your review, Kim).

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