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Kathleen Mac Mahon: Books That Changed My Life

Kathleen Mac Mahon: Books That Changed My Life

Author Kathleen Mac Mahon shares five books that shaped her life and inspire her work to this day

The Story of Horace by Alice M Coats

This is the story of a bear who comes to live with a family and proceeds to eat them, one by one. It was a great family favourite when I was a child and typical of my mother’s taste for macabre dramas—no story was ever too dark for the telling. 

I have no doubt that The Story of Horace was a big part of my formation as a writer and a reader. It’s a tough story, and I do like a tough story. 

The Story of Horace by Alice M Coats

In the Middle of the Fields by Mary Lavin

Lavin was my maternal grandmother and a widow who made her living as a full-time writer when very few women in Ireland did. She made writing and books a family business for us in the way that other families go into medicine or law—as a child I saw it as a normal thing to do. 

"She made writing and books a family business for us"

She set the bar very high with her masterful short stories, set in Dublin and rural Ireland. She’s still the gold standard for me. 

In the Middle of the Fields by Mary Lavin

Love In the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

This beautiful novel of a late-life love affair prompted me to travel to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where the story is set. I’d just dropped out of college, and I was a bit lost. Following in the footsteps of García Márquez was as good a way as any to find my way again. 

"The trip restored my faith in life and my love of literature"

I went to Cartagena de Indias and travelled down the Magdalena river to Mompox, the setting for A Hundred Years of Solitude. The trip restored my faith in life and my love of literature.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

One of the books I have loved most in my life. I adore the post-war Italian setting and the flashbacks to North Africa before the war. I love the novel’s two love stories—one treacherous and ultimately tragic, the other beautifully sweet—both exquisitely told. 

Ondaatje is a very visual writer, and this book has a cinematic quality. It’s no surprise that it made a wonderful movie. Most of all, it’s the hand of history that pulls the strings, giving the novel its immense power. This is the book that made me want to be a writer. 

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I could easily have chosen any other book by Ann Patchett. She’s the queen of plot, from the wonderful Bel Canto—about a siege by guerrillas in a Latin American country of a concert by an American opera singer—to this book, which follows a scientist as she travels deep into the Amazon to track down a colleague gone rogue. 

"There’s nothing like a professional hero who inspires you to work out of pure jealousy"

It’s writers like Ann Patchett who get me out of bed in the morning to sit down at my desk and put words on paper. There’s nothing like a professional hero who inspires you to work out of pure jealousy.

The Home Scar by Kathleen MacMahon

The Home Scar by Kathleen MacMahon is published by Penguin, £13.99

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