Expert’s view

Douglas Kennedy: my five best books

The bestselling writer and former theatre director chooses his five favourite books

Douglas Kennedy’s novels have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and the latest, Afraid of the Light (Hutchinson £13.99), is out now.

1

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald’s seminal novel sold only 3,000 copies on its publication, but with its lyrical exactitude and an eye for the complex nuances of class and social hierarchy, it remains one of the most perfectly judged visions of that deeply American longing for perfection amid that equally American obsession with lucre. I re-read it every two years – and it always astonishes.

2

Robert Stone (1981)

A Flag for Sunrise

My favourite novel of the Reaganite 1980s by this shamefully undervalued novelist, whose work grappled with the geopolitical mess we created during the Cold War, and the spiritual vacuity of modern life.

3

William Trevor (1992)

The Collected Stories 

I discovered Trevor’s brilliant oeuvre during my Dublin years – and still consider his short stories to be among the finest of any postwar writer. His reserved, unobtrusive narrative voice gives way to a frequently lethal dissection of the human condition in all its manifold contradictions.

4

Richard Yates (1961)

Revolutionary Road

Yates’s ruthlessly lucid examination of marital hell and self-entrapment remains, for me, one of the great achievements in postwar American literature. Its portrait of a couple who talk themselves into a move to the New York suburbs and descend into destructive disaffection might be the most blistering examination of the way hell is not just others (as Sartre once noted). Hell, indeed, is often our self.

5

Charles Willeford (1955)

Pick-Up

Written by one of the most underrated masters of American noir, this deeply strange, shadowy account of two drunks who meet in a sleazy bar and begin a romance doomed to conflagrate is pulp fiction at its most skewed.

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