Ros Barber is one of the judges for this year’s Life Writing Prize. Here she picks some of her top reads from the genre, for your inspiration and entertainment.
Andrea Ashworth – Once In A House On Fire
The detail of this book is so breathtaking — the action unspooling around us with such drama and precision — that it’s hard not to read it as a novel. Though the childhood itself is relentlessly grim, the narrative speaks to the transcendent power of the human spirit, and the vital salvation of literature.
J M Coetzee – Boyhood
The third-person viewpoint gives Coetzee permission to distance himself from a childhood that almost requires handling with tongs, while examining it with a forensic eye and a deeply poetic economy. He is able to venture where an ‘I’ could not, and in doing so creates a novel-like aura for a deeply unsettling depiction of growing up in a repressed and repressive South Africa.
Blake Morrison – When Did You Last See Your Father
The charismatic figure of Morrison’s father drives the narrative in thematically-arranged vignettes which intertwine a vigorous past with a waning present. Searingly honest about both himself and his father, Morrison’s series of humorous and compassionate tales makes sense of a life which strongly (and often in opposition) shaped his own.
Geoff Dyer – Out of Sheer Rage
Out of Sheer Rage is a laugh-out-loud exploration of Dyer’s failure to write his biography of D H Lawrence, which nevertheless paints a deep and fascinating portrait of both of its subjects. Contained within its pages are some of the truest depictions I have read of a writer torturing themselves through creatively multiplying iterative loops of procrastination. The book’s geographical compass is wide, and we are left with an extraordinary sense of restlessness, of both subjects never being quite at home anywhere in the world.
Lorna Sage – Bad Blood
Absorbing, funny, and with extraordinary precision (plus the useful resource of her grandfather’s diaries), Sage’s Bad Blood illustrates the potency of emotional damage passed through the generations. An extraordinary slice of social and personal history which makes vivid a kind of British childhood that resonates at its edges with my own.
For more information on the Life Writing Prize and details on how to enter, head here.