Marian Keyes: Books have one chance to impress me, and if you're bored, you're bored

By Tessa Nolan

My earliest reading

When I was about six years old, I was engrossed in my first Enid Blyton book, The Twins at St. Clare’s, and my father told me to turn out the light and go to bed. I tried to keep reading in the dark because it was too easy to leave this fictional world and reconnect with reality. There is no doubt that reading was my first addiction.

The book that changed me as a teenager

George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London.” His 1933 memoir about living with beggars awakened my social conscience at age 15. Even now, I often think about one particular story: a man whose fiancée was hit by a bus, and then he sat on the sidewalk. Afterward, Shakey, resuming construction work, fell forty feet and broke his leg. Maimed, unable to work and entitled to nothing – no workplace insurance or disability benefits.

I read Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint when I was in my early twenties, when I was so detached from feminism that I thought it was “great.”

The book that made me want to be a writer

When I was 28, I read “Fabulous Lowlifes” by the Australian writer Lee Tulloch. About a young thin woman living in Manhattan, working as a club girl, longing for love and fabulous clothes, this was fun and interesting. It was the first time I had ever read about someone like me. So, when I started writing, I wanted to recreate that exact atmosphere: a comedic novel about an ordinary woman not on the side of success/love/happiness.

The book I’ll never be able to read again

“The Tailor’s Complaint” by Philip Roth. I read it when I was in my early twenties and was dazzled by writing so divorced from feminism that I thought it was “great” – reading about how men despise women is empowering and really character-building. The lyrics are still great these days, but my inner misogyny is much less strong. There are no plans to return to it.

A book I discovered later in life

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s “The Cazale Chronicles.” Written in the 90s, but I didn’t discover it until fifteen years ago. What is the magic that turns a book into a gripping, poignant, indescribable read? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s there in these five great novels. The characters! I cared for them so much. They behave in interesting, venal, and realistic ways. They are recognizably human: frustrating, flawed, compelling. Probably my favorite books.

The book I reread

“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo. I rarely reread novels, but the structure, writing style, and energy are so gripping that I appreciate them more with each reread (three times now). The richness of characterization, the risk-taking voice, and the confident command of the writing style are inspiring. I love reading novels that break the unspoken rules of language and narrative.