Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce writes:

“In life I am drawn to people who find themselves on the sidelines, and the same is true of the books I’ve chosen. They’re about people who, for various reasons, don’t fit in with the general view of how we should do things. The experience of loss and isolation can be terrible things, but there is a freedom in these characters and these books that is full of life and humanity. They have all stayed with me.”

Precious Bane
By Mary Webb

“Prue Sarn is a wild, passionate young woman cursed with a harelip. She is cursed too by the superstitious people among whom she lives. Prue loves two things: the remote English countryside of her birth and, hopelessly, Kester Woodseaves, the weaver. The story of how Woodseaves gradually discovers Prue’s true beauty is set against the tragic drama of Prue’s brother, Gideon, an ambitious man who is out of harmony with the natural world.”

By Marilynne Robinson

“Ruth and Lucille are two orphans growing up in the remote town of Fingerbone in the vast Northwest of America. Abandoned by a string of relatives, the two sisters are finally taken on by Sylvia, the unconventional sister of their dead mother. It is a haunting and beautiful portrayal of an enigmatic woman, and a vagrant life, full of water and light. It’s a bit like trying to catch butterflies.”

By Penelope Fitzgerald

“I could pick any book by Penelope Fitzgerald. She too writes about the opaque and the mysterious, but she also celebrates the ridiculous and the ordinary. Offshore is set on a group of houseboats on the River Thames in the 1960s. The boats are in various states of disrepair, but they are the perfect setting for a story about people who don’t quite belong on land and who don’t belong on water either. Nothing happens and everything happens. I love books like this.”

Levels of Life
By Julian Barnes

“I read this in the summer in one sitting. (It is a slim book.) Julian Barnes makes the very complicated seem very simple. He writes about ballooning, photography, and grief, and if you can’t see how these three fit together (alongside love), you just have to read the book.”

The Return of the Native
By Thomas Hardy

“A man at a party once asked me which book I would rescue from my house if there were a fire. The question filled me with panic (I got busy imagining the fire), and thankfully I had the sense to reverse things and ask it of him instead. (And it’s often the case that people who ask this sort of question only do it because they have an answer all prepared.)  He said his book was without doubt The Return of the Native, and he was so unequivocal, I began reading it next day. I completely understood. This is a powerhouse of a story, told with such passion and beauty, about a woman who longs to be more than she is.”