Michael Magee: 10 books that influenced me

By Viking Books UK

Michael Magee: 10 books that influenced me

By Viking Books UK

During the course of writing Close to Home, I read a lot of novels that were written in first person. I did this because I wanted to understand how to do it, the tricks and effects that work particularly well when you’re writing within the constraints of a limited point of view. Some of the books mentioned below are hugely significant in that respect: Hunger, The Outsider, and Reading in the Dark. Others are novels that were somewhat formative reading experiences, like The Bluest Eye and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And then you have Alice Munro, who is such an important writer for me in all sorts of ways, I simply couldn’t not include her. The same goes for Didier Eribon and Annie Ernaux, both huge influences, who write about their experiences of class and the discomfort that results from moving away from the working-class world they were born into, the feelings of loss and melancholy they’ve experienced, and the difficulties of assimilating into a middle-class world that is completely at odds with the lives they’ve left behind. Finally, there’s Anna Karenina, because it’s Anna Karenina and I don’t need a reason to include it. It just is. 

Close to Home

Michael Magee

£14.99 £14.24

Hunger: A Novel

Knut Hamsun

£9.99 £9.49

A man writes in order to survive. If he doesn’t write he doesn’t eat, and if he doesn’t publish his stories he starves. That’s what happens. He starves and starves, and he writes. Often cited as the precursor to Camus’ The Outsider, and the link in the chain starting with Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, Hamsun’s enigmatic novel is told from the perspective of a man hanging on by a tether, and it’s funny as hell.

Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

£9.99 £9.49

Toni Morrison builds worlds. She excavates whole lives and histories, and she goes deeper than almost anyone. Right down to the pit. There’s darkness there. Pain. But her characters are never without some semblance of humanity. She loves them. Or at least, she writes from a place of love, and that’s one of the many things that makes her work so special.

Returning to Reims

Didier Eribon

£10.99 £10.44

Eribon changed everything for me. His experience of social mobility, the difficulties and discomfort that comes with concealing his classness and cultivating the cultural markers he needed to survive in a middle-class world, spoke so directly to my own experiences that my entire mode of thinking, and the lens through which I viewed the world, completely shifted. I owe a great debt of gratitude to him and his work.


Annie Ernaux

£9.99 £9.49

I’ve chosen two Annie Ernaux books - A Man's Place and A Woman's Story - because they function almost as a diptych, each book constitutes a portrait of one of Annie Ernaux’s parents. We see Annie grow from a working-class girl from rural France to a woman of consider literary fame, and we see how this process of becoming complicates her relationship with both parents, whose world she leaves behind. These books are short, each about ninety pages, yet they manage to contain whole lifetimes within them.

The Outsider

Albert Camus

£8.99 £8.54

A hugely influential book when it came to writing Close to Home. The way Camus uses the first person, that distance that allows us to view the world through Mersault’s eyes but leaves enough space between what he sees and what he thinks, the limited introspection, to allow the reader to almost see through him, became a blueprint for how I went about finding my protagonist’s voice. It’s a masterpiece, really, and one of those books you can read over and over again yet experience it differently each time.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being: 'A dark and brilliant achievement' (Ian McEwan)

Milan Kundera

£9.99 £9.49

Kundera’s seminal work follows the lives of two women, two men, and a dog, during the 1968 Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history. Opening with a rumination on Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘eternal return’ (the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum) Kundera’s story posits the alternative: that each person has only one life to live and that which occurs in life occurs only once and never again – thus the ‘lightness’ of being.


Alice Munro

£9.99 £9.49

Alice Munro shouldn’t be able to do what she does in the space of a story. The sheer amount of life she’s able to articulate, the passage of time. How her characters age and change over the course of a few pages and the incredible potency with which she writes. You could read her a hundred times and still not be able to wrap your head around how she does it. She’s a magician, a once in a lifetime storyteller, and everybody should read her.

Reading in the Dark

Seamus Deane

£9.99 £9.49

There’s superstition, there’s family trauma. There’s hidden histories and ghosts and fractured pasts. One of the truly great Irish novels, and one of the few that articulates the experience of working-class Catholics in the North of Ireland during those decades leading up to The Troubles. A massive literary influence.

Anna Karenina (Vintage Classic Russians Series)

Leo Tolstoy

£12.99 £12.34

There’s nothing like it. It has everything. It does everything, and you can’t get away from it. Even after years of having not read it, whole sequences come back to you: Vronsky’s horse race, Levin cutting grass, Anna almost dying in child birth. The train carriage. The dress. It’s the book I buy my mates at Christmas. I shove it into their hands and say, ‘read this now.’ Some of them do, and they never regret it.

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