It’s badly written but it does take you inside the campaign and the awful moments when they realised that she’s not going to win, and how they sidelined Bill in favour of a different strategy, which was to do with women, LGBT, stuff like that, which was fatal. Hillary gave the job to head the campaign to a young guy, Robby Mook. He decided that Bill was yesterday’s man even though he’s a political genius. I read it because I was fascinated to find out how they blew it. It’s an interesting read if you’re into American politics. There’s no doubt it’s the biggest story in the world because we now have The Donald.
If you want to know what all the fuss about Maurice McCabe is — or why we’re having the Charleton tribunal — this book will tell you. It’s a really strong story about an individual and his family, particularly his wife Lorraine, ploughing a lonely furrow, trying to face up to and deal with wrongdoing. She has spoken about the mental stress on the whole family and how a large chunk of their family life was ruined by all they had to endure. It’s the most important book about Irish politics since The Boss was published by Joe Joyce and Peter Murtagh in 1983. It’s not just about politics but a challenge to politics.
Seán O’Reilly emphatically demonstrates what a brilliant writer he is with Levitation, a collection of short stories that are fearless, funny, wild, wounding and startlingly incisive. It’s usually wise to take a break between stories when reading a collection, to recalibrate before moving on to the next. O’Reilly makes that next to impossible; reading on becomes a compulsion. Happily, his stories weave in and out of each other, spinning together to create one hell of a landscape, peopled with incorrigibles, underdogs and winsome losers. Breathtaking stuff.
I was a huge fan of the original trilogy when I was a kid so I scooped up the book as soon as it came out. I didn’t think there’d be another one 17 years after the original trilogy. It was a long time waiting for something we thought would never come. He calls it “an equal”. It’s like the Northern Lights books but from a different point of view — from when the original character was a baby. It’s a really deep kids book, which goes across all ages. It gets very deep into morals, religion and adventure.
You’ve never read anything like it. George Saunders takes risks. The risks he takes are always playful and wise. It’s a fistful. It’s told from the point of view of the dead. It’s a bit like Thornton Wilder. It’s a bit like Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille, The Dirty Dust. One thing that I took away from the book was the relentlessness of your own inner pattern, the thing that annoys you, and how usually trivial it is, which is a good lesson to learn. The way he does things is almost spiritual, which is interesting – you don’t see that much these days.
I was a judge for the Goldsmith’s Prize this year so I read a lot. The book that stayed with me — even though it wasn’t a winner — was Jon McGregor’s novel Reservoir 13. It’s a portrait of a rural community in England over the course of 12 or 13 years. On the surface it’s a very quiet book, not much happening. Very slowly but surely you start to form pictures of the individual lives he’s tracing. It’s masterly in its timing. The humour in it is very English, very wry and self-deprecating. It’s a very moving book. I’d recommend it hugely to any reader.
It is just a fantastic piece of work, telling that story from 1916 to the civil war. It’s over 100 contributors, is beautifully put together, very graphic. The great thing about this book is that it doesn’t try to tell a definite truth. It gives a whole range of different views and doesn’t try to blend them all into one view. It goes into such wonderful detail of the ups and the downs, and the terrible tragedy of the men and women who were so close together as comrades — and had such bonds together during the War of Independence — and they suddenly found themselves on separate sides.
This book came out a few years ago because I go for what interests me rather than when it’s published. The author is a sex therapist based in New York. It’s an amazing book about how to maintain desire in a long-term relationship because desire is built on mystery and the not knowing. How do you keep desiring your partner if you’ve been together for 20 or 30 years? It’s really interesting about why people cheat. It’s not always about the person you’re having the affair with. It’s about freedom and how it makes [the adulterers] feel about themselves. It’s fascinating.
Ruth Fitzmaurice’s husband is Simon Fitzmaurice. He was a filmmaker but he got motor neuron disease so she became his carer until his death in October. It became totally full on for her — they had five children. The basis of the book — its title is I Found My Tribe — is her escape from the whole thing. She discovered some people in Wicklow who she could go swimming with in the sea. They call themselves ‘The Tragic Wives Swimming Club’ because they all had a reason to escape. It was the magic of getting away and having this small amount of time to herself every day.
It’s about post-war Rome, and how the world we recognise as modern Italy really started —the Italy known for its fashion business and revolutionising the way young people dressed. We thought we had it austere over here, but in post-war Rome they were so broke you’d find bed linen and socks in the pawnshops, not family heirlooms. Think about that. The book deals with the paparazzi, which started then, and the films of Federico Felleni.
It all sprang from Cinecittà, the film studios built by Mussolini. Many American films started to be made there. They used to call it Hollywood-on-the-Tiber. It’s a sensational read.
Philippa Gregory writes about the Tudor period so vividly. I’ve never been to the Tower of London, but I feel like I’ve been a prisoner there — her writing is so visceral. Her latest novel is about Lady Jane Grey who was queen for nine days. It has a Game of Thrones feel to it —Henry VIII had died and there were all these cousins with equal claim to the throne fighting amongst each other. She had as good a claim on the throne as Elizabeth I and she was protestant. She had a lot of support, but she messed it up in nine days. It’s an astonishing story.