Gwendoline Riley is the author of five novels, and has won the Betty Trask Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and been shortlisted for the John Llewllyn Rhys Prize. Her most recent novel, First Love, is published by Granta Books this month. Read an extract here. Gwendoline shares fives things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
1. Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey by Janet Malcolm
Why had I not read this book before? Janet Malcolm is a favourite of mine. There’s lots to enjoy here: her reflections on biography; her wonderful reading of the ‘The Lady With The Dog’; her strange experiences at the various way stations on the Chekhov tourist trail. I was moved to tears by the extract from Chekhov’s letter to his brother, Alexander, imploring him to change the way he treated his wife and children: ‘What heavenly or earthly power has given you the right to make them your slaves? . . . Let me ask you to recall that it was despotism and lying that ruined your mother’s youth. Despotism and lying so mutilated our childhood that it’s sickening to think about it.’
2. Charles Aznavour
This performance has been part of the Morrissey tour intro video for the last few years, so I’ve watched it many times while waiting for M. I love his passion! And his limpid eyes. ‘Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre!’ A ready soul reacts. This one’s terrific, too. Both Aznavour and Morrissey were born on May 22nd, on the Taurus Gemini cusp, known as the Cusp of Energy. This makes complete sense when you look at these marvellous men. Aznavour is ninety-two and will be touring South America and Russia this spring.
This a great little bookshop, just outside London Bridge station. I’ve a friend who works there, and I like to drop in to stooge about and talk books and buy books. Any book lovers in the area should do the same.
I’ve been keeping a book of drawings for a while now. They aren’t any good, really, although sometimes I persuade myself that they’ve got something. I draw domestic scenes, and cats. I usually draw people from behind, so I just have to draw hair, not capture a face. Someone else I’ve noticed who does this is Caspar David Friedrich. Faces: an artist’s nightmare. I like E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for The Wind in the Willows, and cat-wise, Balthus’s Mitsou drawings.
5. Comfort reading
I’ve been poorly this week, which meant that with a nice Lemsip steaming on the bedside table I had to have a read of Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers, by Antonia Quirke. I daren’t think how many times I’ve read this book. In it the narrator describes her own childhood comfort reading, how she ‘convalesced in the arms of Antony Sher’s Year of The King.’ Her favourite bits described the things Sher said to Roger Allam in the Arden Hotel bar. ‘I wanted to be in The Arden Hotel bar with Roger Allam,’ she says. Later she has a love affair with an actor. When it’s over she knows she will never go to the theatre again.
Artwork by Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun (Woman Before the Setting Sun), c. 1818