Ten Books That Changed Me with Lauren Chater
Thanks for the opportunity to share with you the Ten Books that Changed Me. It was such a challenge to pick only ten! Reading has always been a part of my life; even during the darkest times, books have been there to provide comfort and make me feel less alone. It was great to reminisce about my favourite books and why I love them — Lauren Chater
March by Geraldine Brooks
March was the first book I read by Australian author and former journalist Geraldine Brooks. It’s a story about love and whether it’s possible to maintain pacifism during a time of war. Told from the perspective of the father from Little Women, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Little Women has always been one of my favourite books; I loved the way March offered a new perspective on the family at the centre of Little Women. Brooks’ writing is sharp and unflinching. I read March over three days and was utterly absorbed. I now own multiple copies.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
I picked up this book after a back-to-back Jane Austen reading frenzy and it was the perfect book to ease myself back into other fiction. Set in Lyme Regis (where Jane Austen once danced in the Assembly Rooms), it’s a story about the friendship between two women, outspoken spinster Elizabeth Philpot and talented fossil-hunter Mary Anning. Together, they challenge society’s perceptions of what women should and shouldn’t do. The writing is extraordinary and sings with energy.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
We watched a lot of Hitchcock movies when I was a child (never Psycho though; my parents considered it too disturbing) so I saw the movie of Rebecca before I read the book. When I did eventually get around to reading it in high school, I discovered it was even more wonderful and multi-layered than the movie. A true Gothic romance, it’s an absolute corker of a mystery story which builds to an unforgettable and dramatic climax. My favourite part comes halfway through the novel when past and present blur and ‘I’ (the book’s nameless narrator) imagines she actually is Rebecca, sitting at her dining table, eating her food, chatting away to Maxim, her husband. It’s a very creepy scene and reflects how the claustrophobic atmosphere of Mandalay and its former mistress have affected the narrator’s mental health. I think it’s one of the most perfect books in existence.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
I studied this book at university and it broke me. The most amazing and tragic story, its not one for the faint-hearted but it’s such an important book about the everlasting effects of slavery that I’m convinced everyone should read it. It’s the story of a woman, a former slave, who kills her baby rather than see history repeat itself but, although parts of it are utterly tragic and difficult to read, there is hope, beauty and redemption, too. Absolutely a must-read.
The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
The Consolations of Philosophy came to me in my early twenties, during a difficult period of my life when I was feeling very directionless. This book was a revelation. In his usual self-deprecating style, Alain de Botton writes about the lives and theories of different philosophers including Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. I felt so much better about my life after reading this book! It was comforting to know that even philosophers are not immune to falling in love with the wrong person or succumbing to their own vices. I went on to read and love many more of Alain de Botton’s books.
Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan
When I was researching for my novel The Lace Weaver two years ago, I came across this book about the life of Svetlana Stalin, who was Stalin’s daughter by his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva. It’s the incredible story of a child who grew up surrounded by Soviet elite, but who was, because of her parentage, absolutely isolated from normal society. The book made me think very deeply about what it must have been like to be raised in such a privileged world by such a father. Of course now, in hindsight, we know that Stalin was a mass-murderer and a tyrant but the Soviet indoctrination was so all-encompassing that for many years, Svetlana believed her father was as wonderful as everybody said he was. Rosemary Sullivan’s biography perfectly captures the slow creep of horror as she learns the truth and details Svetlana’s fight for freedom, which saw her defect from the USSR to America in a bid to escape her father’s legacy. The best bit? It’s all true.
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
In 2011, I decided I would try to write a novel. ‘It’ll be easy,’ I thought. ‘Just put the words down and off you go.’ As you can imagine, my novel soon stalled. I realised I didn’t have enough knowledge about craft or how to put together all the fragments I had written so I enrolled in a course through the NSW Writers’ Centre. The course instructor was Kate Forsyth. I decided I should read Kate’s latest book before I got there so I bought a copy of Bitter Greens. After I started reading, I found I couldn’t stop. Bitter Greens is the most wonderful Gothic retelling of Rapunzel I have ever read, full of heartbreak, forbidden love and dark magic. I reread it regularly whenever I need an injection of Kate’s writing inspiration.
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
I have a very worn, much-loved copy of this book on my shelf. It’s a beautiful, gentle tale of a little boy who goes to live with his grandmother in an English castle and discovers that the ghosts of his ancestors, who died during the Great Plague, are still there. There are stories within stories, secrets to be discovered and an old curse which must be broken. I can’t wait to read it to my own kids one day.
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
I always loved Seven Little Australians as a child. Gentle Nell, naughty Bunty and incorrigible Judy were my imaginary childhood companions. Many years went by, though, before I picked it up again. In 2011, the night before I was due to give birth to my first child, I was staying at my mum’s house so she could take me to the hospital in the morning. Unable to sleep, I scanned my old bookshelves for something to read and came across Seven Little Australians. I read it all in one sitting and it was like revisiting an old familiar landscape. It was also, although I didn’t realise it at the time, like saying goodbye to part of my childhood as the next day, my son arrived and changed my life forever in ways I could never have imagined.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
I’m convinced I have read this book over forty times. Every time I do, I find something to else to love about it. The characters are wonderfully drawn with all their faults and virtues. At its heart, it’s a story about having the courage to be different and letting go of past wrongs. The complex relationship between Vianne and her daughter will ring true to anyone who has given their child every bit of love they possess, knowing that one day that child will grow up and claim their independence. The bits about chocolate-making aren’t bad either!
The Lace Weaver
A breathtaking debut about love and war, and the battle to save a precious legacy
Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way – with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after.
1941, Estonia. As Stalin’s brutal Red Army crushes everything in its path, Katarina and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.
Fiercely partisan, Katarina battles to protect her grandmother’s precious legacy – the weaving of gossamer lace shawls stitched with intricate patterns that tell the stories passed down through generations.
While Katarina struggles to survive the daily oppression, another young woman is suffocating in her prison of privilege in Moscow. Yearning for freedom and to discover her beloved mother’s Baltic heritage, Lydia escapes to Estonia.
Facing the threat of invasion by Hitler’s encroaching Third Reich, Katarina and Lydia and two idealistic young soldiers, insurgents in the battle for their homeland, find themselves in a fight for life, liberty and love.