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Patrick McGrath: my five best books

The award-winning author of nine novels and two short story collections chooses his five favourite books

Patrick McGrath
Mephisto by Klaus Mann (1977)

This acrid novel tells the story of a left-wing theatre director in pre-war Germany who surrenders his political principles, and much else, to the seductive blandishments of his patron, a powerful Nazi official. The process of corruption is agonising to watch, and all too plausible.

Penguin £9.99; The Week Bookshop £7.99

Darkness Falls from the Air by Nigel Balchin (1942)

A witty, ultimately tragic novel of London in the Blitz, which features the rather unorthodox marriage of a senior civil servant and his restless wife. Bombs fall nightly but the city survives, as does our unflappable couple. This novel has the best ending I know, and I discreetly stole it for one of my own books.

W&N £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900)

All Conrad is very wonderful and very wise. I choose this over Heart of Darkness for its ironic portrait of a young Englishman in the dying days of empire, who gives his all to satisfy what he takes for a high moral code of conduct, and it’s nothing of the sort.

Penguin £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848)

Anne Brontë’s novel lacks the romantic grandeur of her sister Emily’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights, but it is, in its own way, just as passionate. The eponymous tenant is a woman with a child, in flight from a cruel, dissipated and faithless husband. A bitter attack on women’s marital subservience, it is also an extraordinary account of the moral and physical decay of the husband.

Wordsworth Classics £2.50; The Week Bookshop £1.99

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys (1939)

All Jean Rhys’s novels of Paris in the 1920s involve a young Englishwoman’s experience of bad lovers, strong drink, poverty, hard luck, and an appetite for fashionable clothes she cannot possibly afford. All written in the most spare, precise, unsentimental prose. She is one of our perfect stylists.

Penguin £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

Patrick McGrath's latest novel, Last Days in Cleaver Square (Hutchinson £16.99), is published this week

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