My holiday reading: Declan Burke
There are times when I worry about what it says about me that the sun-bleached and barren landscapes of the Greek islands – the Cyclades, for the most part, but Crete and farther east to Cyprus too – feel like home in a way that nowhere else on the planet ever will. That’s especially true now that our daughter, Lily (above), is old enough to appreciate their magic.
In reading terms, nothing is more magical for me than finding a bolthole on Paros, say, to read yet again John Fowles’s The Magus. Set during the early 1960s, it is a bildungsroman in which a cynical poet-in-waiting, Nicholas Urfe, becomes an English teacher at a private school on the island of Phraxos (in reality, Spetses). His subsequent awakening – emotional, intellectual, psychological – is couched as a hifalutin mystery, but the devil is in the detail of Fowles’s exquisite observations of a Greek island and the feelings they generate in a pasty northern European.
There’s a Nazi war crime in there too, and Greek myth, and a splash of philosophy. But there is also a love story. In the end, Nicholas learns to abandon male cruelty and selfishness in favour of empathy and self-sacrifice. And the name of the woman who teaches him this lesson? Lily.
In conversation with Sara Keating
Declan Burke’s latest novel, Slaughter’s Hound, will be published by Liberties Press this month. He is the editor, with John Connolly, of Books to Die For (Hodder Stoughton)