Diana Evans: ‘I had a deep affection for Lear – He reminded me of my father’

The novelist on her struggle with Don DeLillo, feeling changed by Arundhati Roy and why Philip Pullman is not just for children

The book I am currently reading
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. They’re working pretty well alongside each other. I’m also reading Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds which is beguiling and sublime.

The book that changed my life
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy had a very deep impact on me. It steered me into a more truthful state from which to write 26a, my first novel, and the writing of that book changed my life.

The book I wish I’d written
I didn’t wish I’d written Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates when I read it, but I did wish for it a deeper magnanimity towards women, so I attempted something like that with Ordinary People.

The book that influenced my writing
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina are still seeping through my consciousness years after reading them. His simultaneous conveying of the panoramic and the subjective is something I naturally espouse in my own writing.

The books that are most underrated
Jean Rhys is still underrated in relation to her talent and body of work, and I think more people should read Deborah Eisenberg. Her stories are electric.

The book that changed my mind
Books are constantly changing my mind. Lately I’ve been reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials over breakfast and it’s making me think about the falsity of age demarcations in analysing readerships. Books are by their nature transcendental.

The last book that made me cry
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. But then he always makes me cry.

The last book that made me laugh
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, especially its take on gentrification.

The book I couldn’t finish
Underworld by Don DeLillo, among others. I used to read to the bitter end even if I was hating it but not any more. Life is brief.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
One day I’ll get round to Paradise Lost and The Odyssey but before that I must read Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I’m not ashamed, though. Reading should not be stressful.

The book I give as a gift
One Christmas I gave my mother Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck, to help her feel connected to home by reading about Nigerian characters. I think short stories make good gifts, but it has to be carefully judged.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
26a is the one closest to my heart. I hope it will be remembered in the midst of mental or spiritual pain as a source of empathy and understanding.

My earliest reading memory
King Lear at school, made larger than life by a brilliant and passionate English teacher. I loved the drama and pathos and I had a deep affection for Lear. He reminded me of my father.

My comfort read
When I’ve lost the plot I dip into Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. I find it grounding and clarifying.

• Ordinary People is shortlisted for the Women’s prize for fiction. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Diana Evans

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