Sometimes I feel we are so much in business mode, that we forget about the deep loves which inspired us to make a career out of the written word in the first place. So with that in mind, I am going to talk about the seminal books that led me to the path I would take, where I could not imagine another career except the one I have now.
REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier
For me, this is the grandmother of psychological suspense. I remember picking this from the shelves of my school library captivated by the cover and the blurb. And yet…it took me a whole week to move past the prologue. For me the novel does not begin with the iconic Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley, but the cutting enigma of I wonder what my life would have been like, if Mrs Van Hopper had not been a snob. A novel where the eponymous title is not the story of the heroine, but the ghost that haunts her and the story entirely – as vivid in full technicolour as if she were alive. I re-read this every month for a year. And still it thrilled, chilled and consumed me.
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte
I was 14, I was bored, I thought it was time to delve into the classics. I fell inlove, and with a protagonist that didn’t have money or looks but whose spirit demanded recognition and admiration. Spirited heroines who refuse to capitulate to the hand life has dealt them but fight on irregardless, have since become a passion of mine, both in fiction and in life. She was the first protagonist who told me it is okay; I made it, you will too.
LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
Jo March – who didn’t want to be Jo March? Who didn’t gasp when she threw over Laurie? Who didn’t hold their mouths when Beth died? Life doesn’t go the way you think it will in this determined, novel and yet…and yet…it takes you exactly to the place you’re supposed to be.
MATILDA by Roald Dahl
A child who knew she was better than the parents who were not worthy of her, who suffered horrendous abuse and yet created immense resilience? I look at Roald Dahl now and I think to myself, how did you know even then, what children so desperately need to hear? That one day they will overcome, that they have more in them than they could possibly understand? It was a life raft and one I always look upon with such deep love. I still have a cup with a quote from her in my cupboard and when I drink my tea from it, I smile.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood
Never been so angry, so afraid, so desperate to reassure myself it couldn’t possibly happen. She spoke to the core of a fear that I am still loathe to call out into the open. I didn’t know what dystopian was as a genre when I stumbled onto this book. All I knew was that it felt so deeply resonant, so incredibly complex and I cared so so much. It haunted me then – decades later, it haunts me still.
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt
On a wintry day in Waterstones a stack of these black tomes were by the window. I picked it up and a bookseller smiled at me and said ‘How I envy you, reading that for the first time.’ From the first page I was compelled and then by the last I was bereft. Nothing she has done since has compared to this for me. I still re-read it regularly, seduced by the language and the characters and then horrified as I fall for the same toxic amour again and again, marvelling all the while at how she can weave a spell all these years later.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
I do not acknowledge Go Set a Watchman. The figure of Atticus looms so large for me – a father figure for all literature. His wisdom, kindness and the brilliance of depicting the assault of reality on the innocent naivety of childhood is something that left a scar of recognition on my psyche at the time: this admittance that the truth is you come into this world believing it is is fair, that things will end up alright for the people they are supposed to – and then slowly this belief becomes a battle between hope and experience. Scout is the hope and Atticus is the experience. Well, there’s a reason it won the Pultizer.
EVERYTHING by JEFFREY EUGENIDES
Honestly – every book he has done has been different, every one of them has moved and made me love them in ways I couldn’t have believed. That is genius right there.
BELOVED – Toni Morrison
I did not enjoy this. I cried and I raged and I put it down many a time. But still I kept coming back to it, like a wound I couldn’t stop from picking again and again. It was corrosive and brave and made me think a great deal about memory legacy and hurt. Even now, I am astonished by the effect that book had on me. Even now I long for something which will affect me that much again.
Nelle Andrew is an agent at Peters Fraser + Dunlop. Her list spans Sunday Times and New York Times bestsellers; as well as Richard and Judy Book Club picks. In 2016, she was also one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars. A published novelist in her own right, she worked at Pan Macmillan before joining PFD in 2009. She also now handles American rights on behalf of the agency with their international rights director.