Continuing our regular On The Shelf series here on the Cranked Anvil website, today we take a look at the five books that author Rosie Morris holds most dear.
Rosie was placed second in our short story competition earlier this year with the beautiful Through The Rusting Gate. For decades, she says, she stymied her urge to write. But longing will have its day—eventually! —and late in 2019, having written in snatches of time and pretty much in secret for the preceding few years, she finally threw off the shackles and began to write openly and in earnest. Late last year, for the first time, she actually referred to herself as a writer. “It was a liberating but scary moment: now it was out there, I had something to prove!”
It’s a tough ask, she says, choosing only five ‘must have’ books, but here we go, in no particular order …
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Going way back – deep into my childhood – this book copperfastened not only my love of books but also of being read to. My dad, perched on my sickbed, read it to me over the course of a couple of weeks, and it absolutely transported me. In honesty, I can’t remember much about its content. But I do remember exactly how it made me feel, which was enraptured. And of course that’s what all good stories should do, whether they uplift us or break our hearts or both. It’s still on my bookshelf – just to look at it is to be taken to a faraway time and place – but I must re-read it and find out where it whisks me away to now, all these decades later.
Wolf Hall series by Hilary Mantel
Is it cheating to choose a trilogy? If I’m not allowed all three, I’ll choose the first book, Wolf Hall itself. I thought that historical fiction wasn’t my thing until I opened Wolf Hall and it hooked me from the very first paragraph. Maybe fiction isn’t quite the right word for this trilogy. I think of it more as a brilliant reimagining of real lives. But however we pigeonhole it, the ambition, the exquisite writing, the phenomenal detail and the compelling storytelling is all second to none. How can a writer sustain paragraph after brilliant, perfectly-wrought paragraph over so many, many pages? I’ve no idea – but Mantel does just that.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I love the nineteenth-century worlds created by Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Gaskell, Eliot and all. From amongst them, though so spoiled for choice, I’ll settle on Jane Eyre (and not only because it allows a neat segue into my fourth choice). I’ve read Jane Eyre during different decades of my life and I don’t love it any less, or find any less to admire in it, with the re-reading. Quite the contrary. A multi-layered, heart-rending story that introduces an ordinary/extraordinary heroine who lives on to this day, it’s also an absolute page-turner. Some things never age or date or become irrelevant, and this book is one of them.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Equally brilliant. And it offers a counterpoint to – and in its way a critique of – Bronte’s novel, but is also (I like to think) an homage. Certainly it couldn’t have been written without Bronte. In Wild Sargasso Sea, Rhys tells – rescues – Antoinette’s story, the story of how she comes (ultimately) to be imprisoned in Thornfield Hall, losing her identity, her freedom, her life and her name (becoming Bertha, the madwoman in the attic). We are with Antoinette as she grows up in a magically-realised Jamaica, before her marriage to Mr Rochester takes her away first from the island itself and then from the Caribbean, to the cold, grey landscape of Northern England. Rhys’s storytelling is incredibly rich, as is her painting of the swirling, vibrant, beautiful and contested Caribbean landscape and culture. She provides an equally compelling description of the unstable human mind, impulses and motives. So much power in such a short novel.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
I was so tempted to choose something by Angela Carter – her magical realism blew me away when I was in my 20s – but for my fifth book I’ve gone for this recently-published Hamnet. I love all Maggie O’Farrell’s – whatever you pick, there’s surely no way you could be disappointed. But this reimagining of the life of (Shakespeare’s wife) Anne (Agnes) Hathaway, and the life and death of her only son, Hamnet, is very possibly her finest hour to date. If you can read it without sobbing out loud, please let me know your secret!
You can follow Rosie on twitter here.