WHAT BOOK would novelist Annalena McAfee take to a desert island? 

WHAT BOOK would novelist Annalena McAfee take to a desert island?

  • Novelist Annalena McAfee would take Palgrave’s Golden Treasury on an island
  • She is currently reading Self-Portrait, the memoir of the artist Celia Paul
  • The novelist said that comics and joke books first gave her the reading bug 

…are you reading now?

Self-Portrait, the memoir of the artist Celia Paul. It’s a haunting companion piece to William Weaver’s recent rumbustious biography of Lucian Freud, Paul’s former lover. Freud’s personal life made Picasso’s seem a Victorian model of temperance and it’s interesting to reflect on the slack cut for great artists, so long as they were men.

Their genius, went the view, exempted them from decency in relationships. But perhaps the #MeToo movement has swept all that away.

Novelist Annalena McAfee would take Palgrave’s Golden Treasury on an desert island

…would you take to a desert island?

Palgrave’s Golden Treasury would offer consoling quick hits as well as the immersion of long narrative verse that I could pass the time by memorising.

Or I might opt for the collected works of the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean in a parallel text, with his own translations in English. This would give me access to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century while helping me brush up my Scottish Gaelic.

…first gave you the reading bug?

Annalena said comics gave her the reading bug

Annalena said comics gave her the reading bug 

Poetry and comics. Our father was a frequenter of junk shops, bringing home boxes of dusty books — exciting treasure to us children — and he’d inherited a passion for poetry from his own father, an Irish labourer who liked to recite the work of W.B. Yeats, John Keegan and Joseph Mary Plunkett.

As children, we were given sixpence for memorising and reciting poems and, though the sixpenny pieces are long gone, snatches of verse remain in the head like musical earworms. Every week our Glaswegian grandmother sent us a thrilling parcel of Scotland’s finest exports — the Beezer, Beano, Dandy and Topper, rolled up in a Sunday Post newspaper, which offered the additional pleasures of Oor Wullie and The Broons.

I was keen on drawing and, after university, I took a job in Marvel Comics’ London office, working (in words rather than pictures) on Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk.

After a year, I diverted to newspapers but I have a lingering affection for the comic form, especially in its richest and most complex manifestion — the graphic novel.

…left you cold?

Honestly? The Bible. We were Catholic and it was regarded as a Protestant text, in our household at least.

I was raised on The Lives Of The Saints, more fantastic and lurid than anything devised by the Brothers Grimm, and tales of the Blessed Virgin materialising in mountain grottoes wearing a crown of stars and azure robes, with wildflowers scattered at her feet.

As an adult unbeliever, I was advised to try the Bible for its literary merit; the King James Version, in particular, is said to be the font of our finest poetry and prose.

It’s my failure, I know, but, apart from the Book of Job (the ultimate misery memoir), some of the wilder parables, and the strange rapture of the Song of Solomon, the scriptures inspired the same creeping boredom that enveloped me when faced with one of those films about World War II involving extended naval or air battles. You knew you were in for a couple of drab hours in the company of bellicose blokes. Not a woman, a crown of stars, a nice frock or a flower in prospect.

  • Annalena McAfee’s new novel Nightshade is published by Harvill Secker, £16.99