ARTicle Magazine

This reading life: Kate Duignan

28 March 2018

Kate's Duignan's second novel will be published in May. We ask Kate, who wrote her new novel as part of a PhD at Victoria University, about the books and authors that have inspired her. 

Kate D

The New Ships by Kate Duignan will be published by Victoria University Press in May 2018. 

The first book to capture my imagination was a collection of rhymes called “Bangalorey Man”.  I loved those rhymes and I still do, mostly mournful and very strange: “If I had as much money as I could spend, I never would cry, Old chairs to mend.”

The books that saw me through childhood were the Famous Five and the Secret Seven series, Swallows and Amazons, everything by E Nesbit and Noel Streatfeild. My favourite though was Rumer Godden’s The Diddakoi, a book which doesn’t hold back on showing the cruelty of children.  

The D

The character in a book I most wanted to be as a child was Heidi. I felt like I was her actually, because moving from Titahi Bay to London as a five year old seemed like the equivalent of moving from the Swiss Alps to Frankfurt. New Zealand in my head was a windy, natural, wild place, while the UK felt mannered, crowded and full of social rules I didn’t understand.  

Heidi

“The character in a book I most wanted to be as a child was Heidi. I felt like I was her actually, because moving from Titahi Bay to London as a five year old seemed like the equivalent of moving from the Swiss Alps to Frankfurt ...”

The book I studied at school that has stayed with me most is Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It slightly amazes me that they taught that book to 17-year-old girls at my fairly conservative Catholic girls’ college back in 1991, but I’m very glad they did.  

Bell Jar

The author I am most likely to binge-read is Elena Ferrante.  I read her Neapolitan novels in a total frenzy a few years back when my children were preschoolers, neglecting them and everything around me until I was done. Elizabeth Knox’s books also have this effect on me.  

The book I am most likely to press on a friend is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, because although I love her Gilead novels (see below), Housekeeping is something extraordinary.   

Housekeeping

The books I keep meaning to get around to reading but somehow never do are all the Harry Potters after Book Three. Especially now I have a child who is a total Harry Potter nut.   

The book I have reread the most is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I studied for my PhD. I also listened to the audio book over and over again while walking to university. Every time I walk up Adams Terrace now I hear John Ames’s voice.  

“The book I have reread the most is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I studied for my PhD”

Bookmark, scrap of paper or turning down the corner of the page?  No turning corners!  Anything but.  

The first 50 pages or bust? Or always to the bitter end?  It annoys me when I give up on books, but I give up on many. That’s not always the book’s fault though. Life feels very busy and distracted, and there’s this thing called the internet.     

My favourite cinematic adaptation of a book is Life of Pi. That tiger was terrifying. 

A line of writing I can recite from memory is King Lear getting wet in the storm and suddenly realising not everyone lives in a castle: “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are, that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, how shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, your looped and windowed raggedness defend you from seasons such as these?” Also, this immortal line from Juliette MacIver’s Marmaduke Duck: “The llama made marmalade, marmalade jam.

My favourite 19th-century book is Middlemarch, or maybe Anna Karenina. One day perhaps I’ll get around to rereading Tolstoy.  

My favourite 20th-century book is probably Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  

The books currently by the side of my bed are Pachinko by Min Jin Lee,  The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood,  The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott,  The New Animals by Pip Adam, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Mindfulness for Mums and Dads: Proven strategies for calming down and connecting by Diana Korevaar. 

The New Ships