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Novelist Jessie Burton Reflects on Formative Books and Personal Literary Escapes


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In a recent interview, renowned novelist Jessie Burton shared insights into her early reading experiences, influential books, and comforting literary choices. The author, known for her bestselling debut novel “The Miniaturist,” discussed the books that shaped her as a reader and writer.

Burton reminisced about her earliest reading memory, where her father would read Winnie-the-Pooh to her, skillfully bringing the characters to life with distinct voices. As a child, she discovered Alison Uttley’s “A Traveller in Time,” a captivating story about time travel and historical intrigue, which sparked her imagination and made her believe in the possibility of crossing through time.

During her teenage years, Burton was profoundly impacted by Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” She vividly recalls the eerie atmosphere of the book and the unforgettable character of Mrs. Danvers, which taught her about the complexity of human nature and the allure of secretive behavior.

Claire Tomalin’s biographical works, particularly “Mrs. Jordan’s Profession” and her portrait of Jane Austen, left a lasting impression on Burton. Tomalin’s ability to breathe life into historical figures inspired her and deepened her understanding of the human condition.

Roald Dahl’s imaginative and fun-filled stories also had a profound influence on Burton. His books, such as “Matilda” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” made writing seem accessible and enjoyable, instilling a desire to create stories that felt more real than life itself.

As a mother, Burton found solace and resonance in Rachel Cusk’s “A Life’s Work,” a candid and compassionate exploration of early motherhood. The book provided her with truthful and insightful perspectives on the complexities and wonders of becoming a mother.

Siri Hustvedt’s “What I Loved” became a cherished book for Burton. Its exploration of family, love, loss, and renewal resonated deeply, and she treasures it as a gift received after a performance in her twenties.

Burton also discussed books she couldn’t read again, such as Gwendoline Riley’s “My Phantoms,” which exposed the raw truth behind human interactions, and Penelope Mortimer’s “Saturday Lunch with the Brownings,” a collection of short stories that delves into the darkness and challenges faced by women in a hypocritical society.

Currently, Burton is engrossed in Amy Key’s “Arrangements in Blue,” a memoir that challenges societal norms and focuses on building a fulfilling life without conforming to conventional ideas of success or romantic love.

Lastly, Burton expressed her ultimate comfort read: Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” She praised Mantel’s masterful storytelling, attention to detail, and love for language. The book holds a special place in Burton’s heart and serves as a source of inspiration, resilience, and solace during times of anxiety or sadness.

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