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A K Blakemore: Books that changed my life

A K Blakemore: Books that changed my life

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A K Blakemore is the author of The Glutton (Granta) which is shortlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2024

The Rascally Cake by Jeanne Willis

rascally cake by jeanne willis book jacket
Maybe choosing a children’s picture book for something like this is cheating—after all, what book doesn’t change your life, when you’re six years old?
But I remember Jeanne Willis’ Rascally Cake, with Korky Paul’s absolutely berserk illustrations, as my earliest introduction to the delights of the grotesque.
The story follows a Mister Rufus Skumskins O’Parsley, a green-skinned gourmand who eats things like tadpoles on toast and tubes of glue—until, in the throes of this debased voluptuary, he ends up baking a cake that bites back.
"I remember always being a bit disappointed when Skumskins cleaned up his act"
The cake chases him around his house, in truly rascally fashion, trying to eat him—an experience that encourages Skumskins to fix his repugnant eating habits.
I’m sure the story was intended as a moral corrective to the bogey-gobblers of the preschool contingent, but I remember always being a bit disappointed when Skumskins cleaned up his act. I loved him just the way he was.
Along with the cover of my dad’s vinyl copy of The Court of the Crimson King, I know the image of the Rascally Cake biting into Skumskin’s ankle will remain productively seared on my subconscious for the rest of my life.

Margery Kempe by Robert Glück

margery kempe by robert gluck book jacket
I first read Margery Kempe in the spring of 2021, and then immediately reread it a second, and then a third time (and not even just because a global pandemic had imprisoned me in a rented one-bedroom flat in Walthamstow).
This taut little novel—a very sexy descriptor, but then, this is a very sexy book—is a dual narrative, combining the biography of fifteenth-century heretic-cum-mystic Margery Kempe with the story of a fraught, contemporary gay love affair.
"Nowhere have I read desire written with such ecstatic precision"
Nowhere have I read desire written with such ecstatic precision. Never have I been more down for snogging Jesus.
This is without a doubt my favourite historical novel, and a book I press into people’s hands at every available opportunity. It’s a perfect example of how the best writing about the past can use it to sharpen our perceptions of the present, and vice versa.
The images built of Margery and Glück’s modern narrator combine to form this shimmering, erotic diptych that transcends time itself. And if that sounds a bit postmodern for you—it’s also really hot.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

bleak house by charles dickens book jacket
The summer before I went to study English at university, I decided, because I was equal parts broke and intellectually insecure, that instead of having fun I would work my way through the entire reading list for our first module: the Victorians.
I don’t know what other eighteen-year-olds were doing in August 2009—the summer David Guetta achieved his second UK No.1 with the laconically-titled "Sexy Bitch"—but it can’t have been as good as sitting quietly in your bedroom to read Bleak House for the first time.
Bleak House is my "Clickens"—a term I invented purely for the purposes of writing this article, denoting the first Charles Dickens novel a reader experiences that fully, at last, convinces them of the scope of his titanic genius.
He had me from the Megalosaurus waddling up Holborn Hill.
Banner credit: Alice Zoo
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