Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to The Dazzling Truth author Helen Cullen.
Book Marks: A book that made you cry?
Helen Cullen: Perhaps it’s the splinter of ice in my heart that prevents me from crying very often at books but in recent years Tin Man by Sarah Winman made me howl and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout summoned a few quiet tears.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
HC: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I read this as a child although I think it was originally published for adults and these days would probably be considered YA. Regardless, I fell in love with Cassandra who is one of the most charming protagonists in literature with an incredible opening line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
HC: I always read a few books simultaneously so at the moment I’m at the beginnings of The Group by Lara Feigel which is a contemporary reworking of Mary McCarthy’s classic which I love, Look at Me by Anita Brooker and an ARC of Nicole Krauss’ forthcoming short stories collection, To Be A Man.
BM: Favorite re-read?
HC: I’ve probably re-read Jane Austen more than any author throughout my lifetime. Every time I revisit those novels I find something new there waiting for me and I am always surprised anew by how funny Austen is. Jane would have been a riot on Twitter, I’m sure of it.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
HC: So many incredible books have been published this year but two novels that have really stayed with me are The Weight of Love by Hilary Fannin and As You Were by Elaine Feeney. I also loved the incredible memoir by Brett Anderson from Suede, Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, which is a sublime lyrical dissection of the music industry and unlike any other rock autobiography you could read. The book of the year from me though I’m sure will end up being Actress from Anne Enright, who is one of my great literary heroines—her latest is as good as it gets.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
HC: The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I was 16 when it was published and struggling to find the right books to take me into adulthood—I had navigated from children’s literature to reading the classics and remained stuck in the past unsure and a bit intimidated by contemporary novels. I just didn’t know where to start but I was obsessed with Virginia Woolf and took a leap of faith on The Hours and was completely blown away. It opened the door to a whole new world of reading for me and offered a roadmap for engaging with the classics as a contemporary writer.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
HC: The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I think this book is likely more famous in America but, on this side of the pond, I seldom meet anyone who has read it although I recommend it often. Published in 1924, this book was so ahead of its time in its dealings with gender politics, domestic labour and family life that it’s just a remarkable feat. I loved it so much.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
HC: Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Bittersweet satire that is profoundly moving with some hysterical moments for good measure.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
HC: One of my all-time favorite novels is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and it’s the book I always give to reluctant readers to hopefully reignite their passion for reading. I also love to gift Just Kids by Patti Smith to the romantics in my life and Patti has never failed me. In the last year though I have probably bought Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson for more people than any other—it is a profoundly brilliant collection of essays by one of Ireland’s most brilliant writers with a life altering, inspirational, healing, thought-provoking power that I want everyone to experience.
Helen Cullen is an Irish writer living in London. Her debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf was published in 2018 by Penguin Random House in the UK and Ireland and published in the USA by Harper Collins in 2019 and in translation to numerous foreign markets. Described as “Enchanting, intriguing, deeply moving” by the Irish Times, the novel garnered Helen a “Best Newcomer” nomination at the 2018 Irish Book Awards and has also been optioned for television by Mainstreet Productions whose past successes include Downtown Abbey.
Helen Cullen’s The Dazzling Truth is out now from Graydon House