What I’m Reading: Francesca Haig

fire-sermonAs any voracious reader knows, there are so many books out there, it can be hard to choose just what to read next. So what could be better than a hand-picked recommendation from someone in the know? Every Wednesday the XOXOAD team likes to find out what some of its favorite authors are reading; today we’ve asked Francesca Haig, author of the brand new post-apocalyptic novel The Fire Sermon (available today in print and eBook) to tell us!


I’m yet to meet a writer who wasn’t also a passionate reader. And, like most keen readers, I tend to have a lot of books on the go at any moment. These are the ones currently teetering on my bedside table:

I don’t tend to read very much non-fiction, but I’m currently halfway through Her: A Memoir, by Christa Parravani. It’s a memoir about her relationship with her identical twin, who killed herself after surviving a rape. My mum read this book and immediately phoned me to tell me I had to buy it, because my own novel is all about twins who share a fatal bond – when one twin dies, so does the other. Twins have always been fascinating to me – there’s a real uncanniness in the way that they’re simultaneously the same and different. Parravani’s Her is a devastating account of having your identity entirely bound up with another person, and what happens when that person is no longer around. It’s intense and moving.

Sticking with the non-fiction, I’m devouring Do No Harm, the account by Henry Marsh of his life as a brain surgeon. The writing itself isn’t necessarily stunning, but the stories he tells are gripping, and it’s fascinating to read his reflections on consciousness, from somebody who has the rare perspective of having spent his working life poking around inside the physical material of the brain.

I’m also very much enjoying Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship. Our novels were published in the same week, and both are post-apocalyptic, but it’s refreshing to see how many different perspectives there are on this scenario. What makes Honeywell’s destroyed Britain so uncanny and effective isn’t how dramatically different it is, but how familiar –  it’s only a few steps away from our own current society. I’m really looking forward to finding out where she takes Lalla, her young heroine.

I’ve been really drawn in by Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. It’s an incredibly striking and odd (in a good way) novel. There’s an enticing strangeness to it – the events of the story are bizarre and unexpected, but they’re described with a matter-of-fact precision. The effect is like seeing everything through water – bright but slightly shimmering. Perry’s writing reminds me of W.G. Sebald (and that’s high praise indeed).

I was a poet before I became a novelist, and I still read a lot of poetry. I’m currently basking in From the Meadow, a collection of poetry from Peter Everwine, including some of his translations of other poets’ work. I first encountered a poem of Everwine’s in an anthology, and immediately had to rush to Amazon to track down more. It’s quiet poetry – full of reflective moments, rather than great striking climaxes or virtuoso displays of imagery. But there’s a contemplative stillness and clarity in his work that’s really astounding to me. Each poem demands that you sit with it quietly for a long time and let it seep in.

I’ve almost finished Hard Times, by Dickens. It’s definitely a minor work, with none of the epic brilliance of my favourites like Bleak House or Dombey and Son. It’s didactic and sentimental, and almost comically patronising to the working class people that it ostensibly champions. But even at his worst, Dickens’ character vignettes, his comic touches, and his earnest convictions, still charm me. I never regret spending time with him.

Next on my to-be-read pile is Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. Everyone I know seems to be raving about it. I can’t wait to dive in.


 

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The Fire Sermon

The Fire Sermon

Francesca Haig

Four hundred years after a nuclear fire that has laid waste to most of civilization and nature, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. (Cool!) The Alpha twins have taken to keeping their Omega twins in an apartheid-like state. (So not cool.) However, that doesn't stop the plain fact that whenever one twin dies, so does the other. (Creepy.)

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Her: A Memoir

Her: A Memoir

Christa Parravani

A passionate memoir of identity and love: when a charismatic and troubled young woman dies tragically, her identical twin must struggle to survive.

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

Henry Marsh

In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor's oath to "do no harm" holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh must make agonizing decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

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From The Meadow: Selected And New Poems

From The Meadow: Selected And New Poems

Peter Everwine

A collection of poetry from the gifted master, Peter Everwine.

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Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation

Jenny Offill

“Dept. of Speculation” was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child and navigated the familiar calamities of family life—a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions. When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, invoking everything from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains.

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