Deborah Levy: ‘I am haunted by Alice’s white rabbit. I think I’ve met him in a London pub'

The playwright, novelist and poet on the cleverness of Muriel Spark, how Marguerite Duras influenced her and why Zora Neale Hurston is underrated

The book I am currently reading
The Soul of the Marionette – A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom by John Gray. An eclectic, enjoyable critique of freedom told via a cultural history of marionettes, religion and science fiction. Emilie Pine’s collection of essays, Notes to Self, is light on its feet and goes in deep – family, class, the ways in which women are scared into silence.

The book that changed my life
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Not for the so-called magic realism, more for the poetry of everyday life, and the thrill of glimpsing worlds so different from my own. It might have been the first substantial translated novel that I had read.

The book I wish I’d written
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark was so clever to encourage readers to admire Jean Brodie, and then have us discover we were admiring a fascist. It’s a skilful flip in empathy that Spark makes look easy.

The books that influenced my writing
The Lover by Marguerite Duras – her writing is like an intense, intimate conversation about sexual passion, politics, vulnerability and power. Same with nearly all of James Baldwin. The British writer who most influenced my writing is JG Ballard.

The book I think is most underrated
It is my view that Zora Neale Hurston was one of the most important cultural anthropologists of her generation, as well as a brilliant novelist. Her study of African American folklore, Mules and Men, blew my mind, yet no one has ever recommended it to me.

The last book that made me laugh
At last I have caught up with the wit, audacity and pathos of Bernardine Evaristo’s stunning novel Mr Loverman. The first line sets the tone: “Morris is suffering from that affliction known as teetotalism.”

The book I couldn’t finish
The books I can’t finish tend to resolve moral conflicts in unbelievable ways and don’t have enough dimensions to keep me interested.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Maybe something by Darwin. I read books that refer to him, but have I ever read his own words? I can see his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals on my bookshelf. Just the title sounds like my kind of book ... but perhaps I have just browsed it.

My earliest reading memory
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, aged nine. I remember the disappointment of discovering Wonderland was just a dream. I am still haunted by the white rabbit. I think I’ve met him in a pub off the Euston Road in London.

The book I give as a gift
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson – confronting, kind, clever, subversive.

The book I’d like to be remembered for
Forgettable is not really what an author is aiming for – so it’s always the book I’m writing at the time.

Contributor

Deborah Levy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Vick Hope: 'I didn’t just cry when reading A Little Life, I bawled'
The TV presenter, author and Women’s prize judge on reading To Kill a Mockingbird at nine, the influence of Malorie Blackman and her love for David Almond’s novels

Vick Hope

19, Feb, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Margaret Drabble: ‘Lee Child does all the things I could never do. I’m awestruck’
The novelist, biographer and critic on laughing at Muriel Spark and never reading any Harry Potter

Margaret Drabble

18, Jan, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Chigozie Obioma: ‘I would rush to the library in my lunch break to read the Odyssey’
The Booker prize nominated novelist on the King James Bible and finding comfort in books about birds

Chigozie Obioma

30, Aug, 2019 @8:58 AM

Article image
Danez Smith: ‘I’ve never read Invisible Man. Please don’t take my black writer card’
The prizewinning poet on the pleasures of Andrea Lawlor, Willie Perdomo and the ‘best novel ever written’

Danez Smith

20, Oct, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Sally Rooney: 'I want the next thing I do to be the best thing I’ve ever done'
The Normal People author on the joy of Jeeves and the influence of JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey

Sally Rooney

17, Apr, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Thomas Keneally: ‘Does anyone write a good book at 83? Well, I think I have’’
The Australian novelist on crying over a Dickens biography, laughing at Kathy Lette and the classic he is ashamed not to have read

Thomas Keneally

06, Dec, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Deborah Levy: Marie Kondo can’t have my bookshelves
I have reached a stage where many of my books no longer speak to me, but I won’t be persuaded to part with Jack Kerouac or Colette

Deborah Levy

23, Jan, 2019 @2:53 PM

Article image
From Gone Girl to Doctor Foster, the lure of the vengeful woman
Alex Clark explores our fascination for stories of domestic desire, rage and revenge

Alex Clark

01, Sep, 2017 @10:59 AM

Article image
Laura Lippman: ‘Hitch-22 taught me that I am a very reluctant atheist’
The crime writer on learning to reread with Lolita, giving up on books and growing up with Dick and Jane

Laura Lippman

23, Nov, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Aminatta Forna: ‘My own books make me cry as I write – it’s pathetic’
The author on struggling with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and the book that inspired her to become a writer

Aminatta Forna

13, Apr, 2018 @9:38 AM