Sophie Hannah: Books that changed my life

Sophie Hannah is a British poet and novelist, hailed the "queen of psychological suspense." She shares the books that shaped her

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This book introduced me to a completely new way of looking at the world, based on the idea that we suffer only as a result of the stories we tell ourselves. That’s what causes all our emotional pain and misery, not factual events that happen in the world and that we can’t control. All such happenings are simply facts, neither positive nor negative. For example, if your best friend lets you down, you might tell yourself the story: “She doesn’t care about me at all. She only cares about herself.”

And if you believed that, you’d feel awful and unnecessarily sad, maybe. Tolle points out that if we avoid interpretations and instead stuck to the simple facts, the only truth might be: “My friend and I agreed to meet at 7. It’s now 8 and she’s not here yet.’ That’s just a simple statement of fact, and could have any number of meanings ascribed to it, many of which wouldn’t be upsetting at all.

The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

I can honestly say that, despite having studied English Literature at university, I was unaware of the richness-on-all levels-simultaneously that the novel as a form could aim for and achieve until I read The Black Prince.

It’s as much of a fun thrill-ride as it as a serious philosophical and moral examination of human nature. It’s about romantic love, betrayal, divided loyalties, friendship, rivalry, ambition and the heartbreaking ludicrousness of everyday life. Only at the end of the book do we discover that it's also a highly original mystery/crime novel. Murdoch’s characters, and her dialogue in particular, reflect, with an accuracy that is both hilarious and slightly chilling, the way people would speak if they didn’t feel obliged to mask their true, messy psyches with the trappings of normality and respectability. 

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

A flawless mystery puzzle story by the Queen of Crime, and the first of her novels that I ever read. It turned me into a crime fan and a crime writer, and I then went on to read all the Christie novels. I soon became an obsessive fan! Some say, "Oh, Agatha Christie’s a brilliant plotter, and her puzzles are great, but that's all." I believe puzzle is the most important component of any great story.

Puzzles arise as a direct result of psychological depth, because people hide things and have secret fears and neuroses. Solving the puzzles of individual people and how they interrelate is the single most useful activity you can engage in if your aim is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world and human nature. And Christie makes the whole endeavour so much fun!

The Couple at the Table by Sophie Hannah is published by Hodder & Stoughton, out 27th January, £16.99.

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