Benjamin has appeared in the Observer with seven leading UK writers (Sathnam Sanghera, Sarah Waters, Elif Shafak, Sheena Patel, Sebastian Barry, Cecile Pin and Alice Winn), discussing his reading plans for the coming year...
"Winter is the best time for fiction, a season in which I am drawn to all things old, or weird, so 2023 started with a series of big names that I’d previously avoided: The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, which pulled me in and spat me out; the deep dive into time and place of Waterland by Graham Swift; and the perfectly succinct Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas reminded me that certain Scandinavian literature speaks to me in ways I can’t fully articulate. Perhaps it is the Viking blood that a recent DNA test revealed I have within me. The Birds by Vesaasachieved an astonishing trick with a narrative voice that almost made me want to give up writing entirely. Almost. I also found comfort in retreating back into a 20th-century England of fried breakfasts, furtive sexual encounters and infrequent bathing via The Bloater by Rosemary Tonks, The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger, The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor and The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton. A new discovery was Love, Leda by Mark Hyatt, a bisexual, occasionally homeless and often brilliant poet, who died by his own hand in a cave near Blackburn in Lancashire.
I slumped in the summer, but, with winter here again, the fire is lit and the fiction tower is wobbling. I’d like to tackle more literature in translation. I’ve yet to read Olga Tokarczuk or Lucas Rijneveld, and have an entire Halldór Laxness backlist winking at me. I often remember a Richard Brautigan character who is reading “the Russians” and think I really should do the same. But then, resolutions are for breaking, and with Ireland seemingly producing an amazing new novel every fortnight, The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry or Wild Houses by Colin Barrett will, I suspect, provide pure reading pleasure as we ease into spring. Two other novels have been patiently waiting for me to pick them up for several years now: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry and Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. Perhaps the time has come...."