Kate Atkinson's novels include Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog. Her latest, A God in Ruins, just arrived in bookstores; a sequel to 2013's Life After Life, an international bestseller and the winner of the Costa Novel Award, it chronicles the history of the 20th century through the life of one woman, Ursula Todd, as she lives it again and again. A God in Ruins tells the story of Ursula's younger brother, Teddy.
What's a book every 10-year-old should read, and why?
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Not just 10-year-olds, of course, but people of any age. I think if I had read these books at the age of 10, they would have opened up to me the extraordinary, magical possibilities of fiction. Other books did that too – Alice in Wonderland was my touchstone of all things wondrous – but Philip Pullman has the ability to create extraordinarily imaginative plots, characters that we invest in emotionally and a fully realized understanding of the battle between good and evil. What more could you ask for?
Which books have you re-read most in your life?
The Just William series, by Richmal Crompton. Again and again, from the age of 7 or so, up until last week. I shall be reading William on my death bed. He is the greatest comic character ever created.
What's the best romance in literature, and why?
Persuasion. I have an argument for Pride and Prejudice as well, of course, as it is the perfect novel, but the melancholy aspect of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth's thwarted love gives this novel more heft than the "light, bright, sparkling" (Austen's words) world of Pride and Prejudice. The sense of struggle and constraint in the later novel is much greater and the relief at the end is so much more profound.
What's the best death scene in literature?
I think I'd have to nominate Emma Bovary's. Painful but relatively swift once she gets going. There's a repression about it that's admirable, although clearly she is her own worst enemy and should have tried walking out and slamming the door like Nora in A Doll's House. She's more efficient in her end than Cathy in Wuthering Heights, who takes pages and pages to shuffle off her mortal coil – a real scenery chewer. I'm rather inclined to agree with the ubiquitous Nelly when she says, "Far better that she be dead, than lingering a burden and a misery-maker to all about her."
Which book do you think is under-appreciated?
Daniel Deronda, perhaps – George Eliot's last, big, flawed novel. The Good Soldier and the Parade's End quartet by Ford Madox Ford. Christopher Tietjens, "the last Tory," is one of my favourite characters. He is the epitome of the agony of restraint. And these three novels by J.G. Farrell – Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip. I know that The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker, and Troubles won the "Lost Booker" but I still think he remains largely unread (he died too young). He is both funny and heart-breaking and original, very good at subtle characterization, but more than anything he's just an incredibly good writer.