Books that changed my life: Pat Barker

Caroline Hutton

Creator of the Regeneration trilogy, Pat Barker is known for her raw portrayals of survival. Her 13th novel, The Silence of the Girls, was published on August 30 by Hamish Hamilton

Emily Climbs

By L M Montgomery

When I read the Emily trilogy aged 11, I’d never come across anyone who had literary aspirations like me. Emily gave me confidence to keep writing, though I sadly destroyed all my early childish attempts. I remember so well the candlelit scene in which Emily agonises about her future; growing up in a strict Presbyterian household she’s told she can’t go to college unless she stops writing fiction. What a terrible choice.

 

The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison

Published in 1970, Morrison’s challenge was to write about poor black people in a way that didn’t stereotype or condescend to them. What language to use that doesn’t alienate the reader? Too much phonetic dialect is difficult to understand and nothing puts a reader off like a worthy message. But Morrison doesn’t fall into these traps. The subjects she covers, from racism to rape, have made the book one of the most controversial of all time, with numerous attempts to have it banned.

 

The Iliad

By Homer

I have no classical background but since I first read The Iliad it has lingered in my mind. I kept thinking about how the men do all the talking. When Agamemnon and Achilles quarrel over slave girls it’s like listening to a very eloquent bar-room brawl. I thought the story could be re-told from a different point of view. What struck me on writing The Silence of the Girls is that there’s nothing in The Iliad that isn’t happening today, not just atrocities abroad but in this country where illegal immigrants are at the mercy of sexual predators because they dare not go to the authorities—in effect these women are slaves too.