Books that inspired me
I think there are books for different times of our lives. There are books that leave a profound mark on us that shape the way we think. I think we can all remember the first book which influenced us as a teenager. Maybe it was the first time we had to step out of our comfort zone and in to the big bad world.
Such a book for me was To Kill A Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee.
It was a hot summer and I was working at my first job as a shop assistant in the small west of Ireland town of Ennis, Co. Clare. I cycled three miles to work and back every day and at lunchtime sat in Curran’s tea room reading To Kill A Mocking Bird. I was transported from one small town to another, Maycombe, Alabama. I was astounded at the racism and prejudice displayed by the good citizens of Maycombe and so riveted I found it hard to close the book and return to my job behind the counter.
Right up there alongside Harper Lee was Jane Austen.
It was the same summer when I seemed to devour every book in my local library. I studied Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice later at school too, but even that experience did not take from the fact I adored it and particularly my first read in the sunshine. Like all great stories, it is a book you can return to more than once. It is what I have found myself doing over the years. In between my second novel The Judge's Wife and the third novel The Ludlow Ladies' Society I feasted on Pride and Prejudice.
What a novel! We all know Mrs Bennet is looking to marry her daughters off, but this is a novel of manners and it is the keen observations throughout that make it a joy to read. There is great detail here without it overpowering the story. When I read it for the first time I raced through following the plot. Now, I read it as an apprentice might study the work of a master craftsman or woman!
Pride and Prejudice will always have a place on my shelf.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.
My mother bought me A Suitable Boy for a significant birthday. She said I would never get through it, but even through it is a big fat book with about 1,300 pages, I ploughed on, loving the story and the life inside an Indian family. The story centres on widow Rupa Mehra wishing to find her headstrong daughter a good Hindu boy of the right caste to marry. But this is also the story of a family, a changing society and a changing India. When it came out there was a lot of talk that this book would not stand the test of time, but it has. Even now when I dip in to it, I can smell India.
I am sure too it was partly responsible for my decision later to live and work in India. It was such an accurate account, something I fully realised when I lived there and befriended an Indian family.
I love too that Vikram Seth set himself up in his family’s Delhi compound writing. I think any writer would love that constant state of inspiration!
Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.
I just loved this book. I am not surprised that the Greek island of Cephalonia had an increase in tourism after its publication and the movie release. It is such a wonderful love story. Set in the early days of World War 2, a beautiful local woman whose fisherman boyfriend departs to fight with the Greek army falls in love with Captain Antonio Corelli in command of the Italian garrison occupying the Greek island. The movie did not do the book justice. I loved in particular the historical detail; this a book that made me laugh and cry.
On a more frivolous note, Louis de Bernieres was able to give up work and concentrate on his writing after publication. That would be a dream come true for any writer.
When I lived in India for a year I came across the writer Mulk Raj Anand.
His book Untouchable dates back to 1935 and is the story of a day in the life of Bakha, a proud young man, but an untouchable, an outcast in India’s caste system. A sweeper he has no chance of bettering his lot. An anger burns inside Bakha who has to put up with humiliations throughout the day. His untouchability means he can’t even fend off the so called higher castes. He looks to Mahatma Gandhi for hope for the future. This book is a way to understand the India of yesterday and today.
The Ludlow Ladies’ Society by Ann O’Loughlin is published 20th July by Black & White, price £12.99