Expert’s view

Ruth Padel: my five best books

The award-winning poet, author and classicist chooses her five favourite books

Ruth Padel’s new novel, Daughters of the Labyrinth (Corsair £18.99) – a contemporary story set partly in her beloved Crete – is out now.

1

Mary Renault (1956)

The Last of the Wine

One of my favourite evocations of classical Greece. It is beautifully written, vivid and natural, with no hint of the research that must have gone into it. But it’s also a deeply emotional, delicately drawn love story between two men. It brings to life the horrors of ancient warfare, the original Olympic Games, and philosophers Socrates and Plato, as classical Athens falls from prosperity into war and social division, and democracy crumbles under pressure.

2

Kamila Shamsie (2017)

Home Fire

A gripping example of Greek myth illuminating our own age. A British Muslim, whose boyfriend is the son of a Muslim home secretary, tries to help her radicalised brother escape Isis and comes up against the power of the state. A brilliant re-working of Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone.

3

John Keats (1973)

The Complete Poems

It is exactly 200 years since Keats died, aged 25, of TB. A stableman’s son, born at an inn in Moorgate, he wrote some of the most memorable and sensual poems of all time.

4

Sylvia Plath (2012)

Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy

A handy, slip-in-your-pocket selection by one of the most important 20th century poets. Plath’s poems are personal, imaginative, brave and surprising: their imagery, voice and new ways of looking at relationships and life experience changed the world of poetry for everyone. I could never be without her.

5

Charles Dickens (1849)

David Copperfield

It was Dickens’s favourite of his own novels, and is mine too. My dad read it to me, I read it to my daughter, and I re-read it every ten years. It is an autobiographical story told in the narrator’s voice. Dickens’s laughter, tenderness and anger at injustice are on show on every page.

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