Author: Emma Claire Sweeney
Published: 1st July 2016
Publisher: Legend Press
Emma Claire Sweeney on her five favourite books that influenced Owl Song at Dawn
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I loved this assured exploration of an unconventional and yet profoundly intimate relationship between sisters. The powerful feeling of disquiet it created in me opened my eyes to the way a novel can create a powerful reaction, while retaining great delicacy.
Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
Full of humour, passion and verve, Grace Williams Says it Loud upturns stereotypes of disability. The eponymous heroine can only utter sentences of two syllables, yet the richness and creativity of her life shine through. It is an ambitious, experimental novel and yet it somehow manages to retain its heart and be immensely readable too.
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated by David Mitchell and Keiko Yoshida
Having always yearned to read the mind of my sister who has severe autism, I jumped at the chance to enter into the world of this autistic memoirist. The author finds conversation almost impossible, but he writes by pointing to letters on a grid, revealing his exuberant spirit. Despite the Herculean effort of translating the autistic experience into language, The Reason I Jump reads effortlessly, each page challenging preconceptions that autistic people lack empathy, humour or imagination. My sister may never have Higashida’s access to language, and he can never speak for her. But through him I have glimpsed a tiny corner of their world, and for that – however vicarious, however bitter-sweet – I jump for joy.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The characterisation of Olive Kitteridge helped me to hold my nerve about my own portrayal in Owl Song at Dawn of an older woman whose compassion and vulnerabilities also lie hidden beneath armour. I found this collection of interlinked short stories almost impossibly moving, unexpectedly generous, and certainly one of the wisest books I've read for some time.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
I re-read my dog-eared copy of Mrs Dalloway more frequently than any other book. It’s hard to specify why I initially found it so challenging as a teenager, but I know exactly the passage that seduced me: ‘Like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower, she went upstairs, paused at the window, came to the bathroom. There was the green linoleum and a tap dripping. There was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room.’ It seems odd that this depiction of sexual grief so captured my adolescent imagination. Perhaps I was drawn to this spectre of the madwoman in the attic – so long associated with the female imagination – because it encapsulated both my then-suppressed desire to write and also my autistic sister’s more boisterous and even less socially acceptable mode of creativity: her made-up words, her dance moves, her patchwork of talk and poetry and song.