On my radar: Claire Messud’s cultural highlights

<span>Claire Messud.</span><span>Photograph: Rick Friedman/The Observer</span>
Claire Messud.Photograph: Rick Friedman/The Observer

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1966, author Claire Messud studied at Yale University and the University of Cambridge. Her first novel, 1995’s When the World Was Steady, and her book of novellas, The Hunters, were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner award; her 2006 novel The Emperor’s Children was longlisted for the Booker prize. Messud is a senior lecturer on fiction at Harvard University and has been awarded Guggenheim and Radcliffe fellowships. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, literary critic James Wood; they have two children. Her latest novel, This Strange Eventful History, is published on 23 May by Fleet.

1. Film

Io Capitano (dir Matteo Garrone, 2023)

It’s an incredibly powerful and upsetting film about two boys who leave Dakar, Senegal, and cross through the desert trying to get to Europe. The film-maker has spoken about how difficult filming was, because it actually recreates the trajectory that migrants take. Watching it, I thought: “This is the experience of thousands of people, and here I am in the comfort of a cinema – the least I can do is not turn away.” It’s very beautiful, with some amazing dream sequences. It manages to end in such a way that isn’t falsely hopeful, but it’s also not without hope.

2. Play

An Enemy of the People, Circle in the Square, New York

We saw this a month or two ago, and this 19th-century Ibsen play spoke to this moment on multiple levels. It’s about a doctor who discovers the town’s thermal waters have been contaminated. He wants to bring the story out, but when it becomes clear the town will go bankrupt, he’s deemed an enemy of the people. Succession’s Jeremy Strong played the doctor, and Michael Imperioli his bombastic brother – they were perfect for their parts. It was staged in the round, which was intimate and effective. Luckily I was not called up for audience participation, but our kids were.

3. Art

Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold died last month, aged 93, and was amazing to the end. She was famous for her story-quilts, which are incredibly joyful, in their complexity, their vitality, their use of rich, saturated colour. They’re full of life even when they’re depicting really challenging subjects – she has a civil rights series which is quite dark. In one quilt she reimagines iconic artworks by Matisse but with women of colour. You can spend half an hour standing in front of her quilts following all the different characters, figuring out the narrative.

4. Restaurant

Lord’s, New York

Our daughter’s living in New York now, so she took us to this newish restaurant offering British food. The vibe is low-key: it’s more restaurant than pub, but it’s dark and has a long bar. It’s traditional, with a very contemporary twist on canonical British menus. Everything’s very fresh and flavourful, and the food was delicious: the curried lamb scotch egg was a particular hit, but we loved everything. On the menu at the moment they have cured trout with limequat and fava beans, and devilled soft shell crab with basil. The whole experience was utterly pleasurable.

5. Music

Yunchan Lim

I don’t know a ton about classical music, but I live with somebody who does. Yunchan Lim was the youngest person ever to win gold at the Van Cliburn international piano competition, aged 18. There’s something about this pianist: his playing is so mellifluous. He makes it seem so easy, as though the music comes through him effortlessly into the world. When he plays, even the most complex passages flow and seem destined, as if nothing could go wrong. His Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58, is very beautiful.

6. Book

Loved and Missed by Susie Boyt

This is a novel about three generations of women in London, mostly told by Ruth: her daughter, who is a heroin addict, has a baby and Ruth raises the baby. What makes writing important to me as a reader, but also as a writer, is to convey some small aspect of what it’s like to be alive. And this is a humanly astute novel about all the things you feel in any given moment: love of family, hope, despair, your complicated feelings about yourself – she captures so much so deftly. It’s bittersweet: there’s humour and love in it, but also awfulness.