Looking for great books to add to your reading list? We asked Michelle Perkins, winner of the inaugural Laura Kinsella Fellowship in 2020, to recommend ten essential books that will broaden the scope of the literature you read…
The Laura Kinsella Fellowship is part of NCW’s Early Career Awards and recognises an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances or is currently underrepresented in literary fiction. As part of an initiative to encourage new readers and further increase the reach of the prize, NCW donated Michelle Perkins’ ten selected books to Clean Break: a women’s theatre company changing lives and changing minds: on stage, in prison and in the community.
Milkman by Anna Burns
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq
Pig Tales is a brilliant satirical novel about a stunning young woman working in a beauty ‘massage’ parlour. She enjoys extraordinary success at bringing home the bacon (in part due to her increasingly rosy and irresistible backside) until she slowly metamorphoses – into a pig.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.
Fen, Daisy Johnson
Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what?
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s award-winning debut novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist.
The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride
From the writer of one of the most memorable debuts of recent years.
An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story.
The Lesser Bohemians is about sexual passion. It is about innocence and the loss of it. At once epic and exquisitely intimate, it is a celebration of the dark and the light in love.
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
The Witch is dead. After a group of children playing near the irrigation canals discover her decomposing corpse, the village of La Matosa is rife with rumours about how and why this murder occurred. As the novel unfolds in a dazzling linguistic torrent, Fernanda Melchor paints a moving portrait of lives governed by poverty and violence, machismo and misogyny, superstition and prejudice.
Written with an infernal lyricism that is as affecting as it is enthralling, Hurricane Season, Melchor’s first novel to appear in English, is a formidable portrait of Mexico and its demons, brilliantly translated by Sophie Hughes.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss gives way to memories, the little unit of three starts to heal.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Darling and her friends live in a shanty called Paradise, which of course is no such thing. It isn’t all bad, though. There’s mischief and adventure, games of Find bin Laden, stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices.
They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live. For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges – for her and also for those she’s left behind.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation.
At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity.