Bournville-based Dr Luke Kennard wrote the award winning novel "The Transition" and has just published the fiendishly clever, entertainingly original "Notes on the Sonnets", a series of prose-poems based on Shakespeare's sonnets and set during a house party . He is head of department of Film and Creative Writing at University of Birmingham. Here are his Desert Island books...
Frances Leviston£9.99 £9.29
I’m taking this as an opportunity to talk about some books which should be better known or should have received multiple awards when they were published. Leviston is a brilliant poet and this is her first work of fiction, and it’s just alarmingly great. It features 10 different characters, all called Claire, in 10 different stories, often circling around a painful relationship with their mother, all of them bracingly astute and deeply funny.
Ruth Gilligan£8.99 £8.36
A gripping and extraordinary saga set in the borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland, encompassing folklore and history, but utterly contemporary in its concerns and perfectly drawn characters. As I was writing this description Ruth just won the 2021 Ondaatje Prize.
Keith Ridgway£8.99 £8.36
One of my favourite novels of the last ten years. Like a police procedural reshot by Samuel Beckett. Some of the episodes are so disturbing I feel like I’ve been cursed by them, but it’s also consistently funny and, if not exactly life-affirming, buzzing with life and ideas and mysteries. Ridgway’s new novel A Shock is out this summer.
Will Eaves£8.99 £8.36
Also one of my faves of the last couple of decades (along with Eaves’ prose-poems / experimental novels The Absent Therapist and The Inevitable Gift Shop). This is a poignant and intelligent novel about Alan Turing, specifically during his period of punishment for “gross indecency”. It goes beyond any notion of biography to become something quite new, and a startling meditation on the nature of consciousness.
Iosi Havilio£8.99 £8.36
Translated by Lorna Scott Fox, and published by the great And Other Stories press, this is the fifth novel by an Argentinian novelist who deserves to be better known. An out of work man keeps killing his perfectly affable neighbour with a shovel, but the next day he’s absolutely fine and alive again. He also goes through a really bad break-up. I realise I’m recommending some pretty bleak-sounding books here, but this is honestly a complete joy from start to finish.
Luke Brown£11.99 £11.15
Brown’s second novel and a sort of anti-parable of fidelity, gentrification, politics, scandal within the publishing industry. It’s a deeply personal story with characters you fall in love with, at the same time as being one of the best state-of-the-nation novels I’ve read in recent years.
Beryl Bainbridge£8.99 £8.36
I think I’m exactly the wrong age to have appreciated Bainbridge at the time, so I’ve only read her books in the last few years and, in my opinion, she should be read as widely as Muriel Spark. This is my favourite – a hilariously mean account of dashed hopes, house-sharing, menial labour and equally menial leisure time. Includes the funniest description of a sunrise I’ve ever read.
Muriel Spark£8.99 £8.36
Speaking of Spark, this is my favourite of hers. The protagonist, a stranger who arrives without explanation in a London suburb, has little bumps on his head which might be horns and might imply that he’s the devil. Spark can make that kind of thing completely believable.
Tim Clare£8.99 £8.36
Giant bat monsters, stately home, 12 year old protagonist (in her old age by the sequel). It’s a captivating conspiracy adventure and, more to the point, Clare has a prose style to rival George MacDonald and CS Lewis. If there was any justice these would have sold a million and already have Netflix adaptations.
Tim Clare£8.99 £8.36
Sequel to The Honours
Clare Pollard£9.99 £9.29
This is Pollard’s first non-fiction book, beginning as an exploration into the stories behind our favourite picture books, full of brilliant and surprising insights into the lives of children’s authors and beautifully described personal memories. It captures that uncanny and bittersweet sense of reading the same books to you child that were read to you when you were small.
Kazuo Ishiguro£9.99 £9.29
At the time this was regarded as a difficult follow-up to The Remains of the Day but I think it’s his masterpiece. A 600 page fever dream about a celebrated concert pianist who attends a festival in a middle-european city and finds himself embroiled in increasingly complicated obligations and reasons not to play.
Michel Faber£10.99 £10.22
One of my students once described this novel as “1,000 pages of a man being sad in space” which, for me is a ringing endorsement. It’s an incredible science fiction story, a deeply moving love story and a profound comment on religion. In space.
Caroline Bird£9.99 £9.29
Bird is best known for revitalising the surreal and the absurd in contemporary poetry, but I’ve always been most struck by the way she uses it to deliver these beautiful, heart-breaking poems which express emotions more complex than normal language can convey. Even if you think of yourself as someone who doesn’t really “get” poetry, you need to read this book.
Will Harris£10.99 £10.22
Harris is a frighteningly intelligent writer and it’s hard to believe this is his first collection. It’s one I’ve been re-reading a lot over the last year and it’s partly for the way he writes about culture and identity without recourse to cliché or generalisation. Look up the poem ‘Pathetic Earthlings’ online as a good taster.
Rachel Long£10.99 £10.22
Another debut collection and another one which went straight onto my reading list for poetry students. Long writes about memory and family in a way that combines the surreal and the filmic to dazzling effect.
Holly Pester£10.99 £10.22
The kind of poetry that reaches deep into your brain and fine-tunes the synapses you didn’t even know were there. At the same time it’s set so deeply and intelligently in our world – worker’s rights, feminisms, reproductive rights – but it’s also like a book you dream about and then wish you could remember when you wake up. And then realise it’s real.
Chrissy Williams£10.99 £10.22
Brilliantly inventive, comical and poignant – Williams is an experimental poet with the intellectual generosity to really engage the reader, whether writing about Sonic Youth or a mythical bear. The central sequence of Low is a powerful exploration of the grief of miscarriage. It’s brave, original and essential reading for anyone who cares about poetry.
Isabel Galleymore£9.99 £9.29
Galleymore’s first collection, shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2019; a sustained look at the ‘eight million differently constructed hearts’ of species currently said to inhabit Earth. The “heart” is the key there; Galleymore can write about a different species as if they’re directly communicating with you.
Jack Underwood£14.99 £13.94
This book, about fatherhood, uncertainty and writing, made me cry on pretty much every other page.
Sam Riviere£16.98 £15.79
I am extremely jealous of this vicious, urgent and hilarious unilateral take-down of the poetry scene. There are passages I’ve read out loud over and over again. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from it.
This is a good starting point to get into Rose’s work (his second novel, Who’s Who When Everyone is Someone Else is equally wonderful and his third, The Blind Accordionist, has just come out). This book takes the form of an encylodpedic series of bibliographies of fictional (we think?) writers who, in one way or another, absolutely failed. They couldn’t write or couldn’t get published or just went to bed forever. It’s honestly on par with Kafka and Calvino and Borges and any number of other fabulously inventive minds.
Luke Kennard£9.99 £9.29
This is by me – they generously told me I could include my own books. It contains 31 perfect anagrams of Genesis 4:1-12 which a lot of people really hated but I still consider my best achievement.
Luke Kennard£9.99 £9.29
Well this is embarrassing – another book by me. This came out in April, on Shakespeare’s birthday, and it re-sets all 154 of the sonnets at the same joyless house party.
Luke Kennard£8.99 £8.36
This was my first novel and it’s a near-future dystopia about a self-improvement scheme which turns out to be quite sinister. Or does it? That’s the ambiguity I was playing with.
Luke Kennard£14.99 £13.94
Second novel. Featured in the May edition of Sainsbury’s Magazine. I feel like this is a good forum in which to state that this is a work of fiction and that I did not have an affair with a brilliant but troubled drama teacher or a dishevelled but handsome Fine Art lecturer I met at the school gates. Not even for research.