The books that shaped me: Tana French

·4-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Good Housekeeping

Welcome to 'The books that shaped me' - a Good Housekeeping series in which authors talk us through the reads that stand out for them. This week, we're hearing from Tana French, author of The Searcher, In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction.

How have books impacted your life?

When I was little, I was a voracious reader. Maybe it had to do with the fact that we lived in Malawi, where in the '80s there was no TV, so I was either outside running wild, or else reading. I was a total-immersion reader: once I had a book in my hands, I basically didn’t exist to the outside world until I’d finished the last page.

The childhood book that's stayed with you...

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston. A little boy goes to stay with his great-grandmother at the family home, a twelfth-century manor house, and finds himself meeting other children who’ve lived there over the centuries. Its influence still shows up in what I write. I’m fascinated by houses – by the way they shift and grow with the people who live in them, but still hold the shapes of their past within them; by the way they can be charged with memories and history so that they become solid links between past and present.

Your favourite book of all time...

Probably Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s about a group of rabbits who leave their warren to find a new home, but that doesn’t do it justice. The writing is wonderful, the plot is gripping, but what makes it so outstanding is the intricate detail with which Adams creates the rabbits’ perspective. They’re not just furry humans; they’re different creatures from us, experiencing their wild world differently, and Adams pulls us right into that world.

The book you wish you'd written...

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. It’s a play about the life of a small Welsh town over one day. Thomas creates a whole world and lets us wander around it, catching glimpses of a character here, a relationship there. And the writing is a stunning masterclass in what words at their absolute finest can do. ‘Lazy early Rosie with the flaxen thatch, whom he shared with Tom-Fred the donkeyman and many another seaman, clearly and near to him speaks from the bedroom of her dust… Remember her. She is forgetting. The earth which filled her mouth is vanishing from her.’ If I ever wrote anything that perfect, I’d be a happy writer forever.

The book you wish everyone would read...

The Playmaker, by Thomas Keneally. It’s the story of a play put on in 1789 by the first bunch of convicts transported to Australia. The book is a passionate call to understand that the arts aren’t a trivial luxury, or a pretentious elitist indulgence, or a sinister corrupter of moral fibre. They help us make sense of our own emotions and experiences, give us the empathy to treat one another with respect and kindness, offer us the vision to transform our lives, and raise us into a cohesive society. They’re an essential, and they need to be available to everyone.

The book that got you through a hard time...

Over the last seven months – which definitely count as a hard time for everyone – I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie. There’s something very comforting about a world where you know that the crisis will end, good and bad will be neatly sorted out and put where they belong, and somehow everyone will move on without being particularly traumatised by anything that’s happened. My favourite is Sleeping Murder, for the haunting atmosphere.

The book that uplifts you...

I just reread Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. After the Russian Revolution, Count Alexander Rostov spends decades in house arrest at the Metropol Hotel. It’s a wonderful book at any time, and this time it brought home to me how people find ways to be happy, make connections, and make a difference to one another’s lives, even in the strangest, saddest and most restrictive circumstances.

The Searcher by Tana French is published by Viking on 5 November.

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