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Books that Changed Me: Alison Booth

Alison Booth is an academic economist at the ANU and the author of four novels: Stillwater Creek, which was highly commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, The Indigo Sky, and A Distant Land. Her latest novel is A Perfect Marriage.

My father had a wonderful collection of novels that I regularly raided when I was young, and reading Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot had a profound effect on me. It wasn’t only White’s brilliant use of language and extraordinary psychological insights that hooked me, but also the big story that he told, of visionaries from vastly different backgrounds whose lives became interconnected – an heiress, a washerwoman, an Aboriginal artist, and a survivor of the Holocaust.

My sister introduced me to The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and I was blown away by it. Morrison tells with great compassion the story of a young black girl who has suffered from child abuse. She longs for the blue eyes that she cannot have. Without them, she is excluded from the dominant group and her identity threatened. This beautifully written novel shows how literature can illuminate the human condition and influence readers’ perceptions of the world.

Per Petterson’s book, Out Stealing Horses, (translated into English by Anne Born) is a poignant novel that spans half a century, from the time of German occupation of Norway early in the Second World War. I love short novels (clearly Patrick White is an exception), and greatly admire how Petterson tells his story – with its profound insights about the legacy of the past on the present ­ in such parsimonious and beautiful prose.

Halfway through what I’d hoped was the final edit of my latest novel, A Perfect Marriage, I read All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld. A short and beautifully written book, it has a deceptively-simple structure that I found particularly exciting: the backstory moves back in time while the front story moves forward in time. I loved reading this book that inspired me to be more adventurous with the structure of my own novel.

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