Helen Oyeyemi's Life in Books

31 March 2016

By Pan Macmillan

Ahead of her beautiful new collection of short stories What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, award-winning author Helen Oyeyemi shares the books that have inspired her writing. 

Hotel World, Ali Smith
A novel that felt written especially for me and yet also written for everybody (I've noticed that this paradox tends to be present in those really great novels that make you feel more human). Like all Smith's writing, Hotel World is a formal and linguistic thrill, tripping you up then picking you up and dusting you off. This was the first book of hers I read, and I tell you, what a start.

Kornel Esti,  Dezso Kosztolanyi
Solemn, sly, factually fantastic and emotionally acute tales from the life of an unrepentant rascal.

Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Fermina Daza and I are one. And then there's the vivid beauty with which Marquez unfolds time. But I knew that this to be a story I'll love forever when I came to the part where a parrot shouts 'every man for himself!' and somersaults into a soup tureen.

The Skin Chairs, Barbara Comyns
A story of free perception, of trying to perceive the world just as it is – scary because our constructs are what keep us (relatively) well-protected. The protagonist harbours a terror of a set of chairs covered in human skin, but she finds her way to the end of her fear. Comyns' candid, absorbing narrative voice is one of the most delightful things about this novel.

Little Women,  Louisa May Alcott
In her inscrutable authorial wisdom, L. M. Alcott allowed Beth March to die of scarlet fever, and she allowed Jo March to marry someone who wasn't Theodore Lawrence. These events grieved a young reader in deepest South London in a very particular way that led her to probe and consider the limitations and function of a story . . . what I'm saying is that the very first fiction I wrote was really a series of argumentative little plasters to try to cover those Little Women related wounds.

Read ‘‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea’ from What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours