|photo: Eugene Langan
Gavin McCrea was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1978, and holds a BA and MA from University College Dublin and an MA and a PhD from the University of East Anglia. He divides his time between the U.K. and Spain. His debut novel, Mrs. Engels (Catapult, October 13, 2015), focuses on Lizzie Burns, an illiterate Irishwoman who was the longtime lover of Friedrich Engels.
On your nightstand now:
It feels like a long time since I have read disinterestedly. I choose books (both fiction and nonfiction) that I think will enrich my own writing practice, and I enjoy them all the more for this. Since my second novel will be set in the mid-20th century, I've put myself on a strict diet of literature from the 1930s to the 1960s. The current pile on my nightstand includes the following, stacked in chronological order: Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts (1941), Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square (1941), Lynne Reid Bank's The L-Shaped Room (1960), Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook (1962) and Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means (1963). I see now that a decade is missing. I won't sleep tonight.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Roald Dahl's Matilda. When I was 10 or 11 years old,I was lucky enough to meet Dahl at a signing in Dublin. He scribbled on my copy of Matilda: "Gavin, Love Roald Dahl." It is the only book that I still possess from my childhood, and I cherish it.
Your top five authors:
I'd like to wander hand-in-hand with Marcel Proust. I'd like to smoke opium with Oscar Wilde. I'd like to do drag with Ernest Hemingway. I'd like to go clubbing with Michel Foucault. I'd like to kiss Samuel Beckett's eyes. I'd like to get still with Herman Hesse. I'd like to be neighbors with Ali Smith. I'd like to share an office with Elizabeth Strout. I'd like to marry Sebastian Barry. And I'd like Carol Shields to be my mother-in-law. (How many is that--10? Five is a life half lived.)
Book you've faked reading:
I once taught a university seminar on George Gissing's New Grub Street without having read it. It was--hands down--the best seminar I ever ran. Student-led teaching, I believe it's called.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Primo Levi's The Periodic Table. Amen.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk. That turned out well. I should do it more often.
Book that changed your life:
John McGahern's Memoir. When I finished it, I wept for an entire day. It felt like I'd never properly cried before in my life--which I probably hadn't. Nothing was the same afterwards.
Favorite line from a book:
I admire the opening line of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea: "They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did." They don't get much better than that.
Which character you most relate to:
The one who craves what s/he fears most: vulnerability.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I don't think I've ever re-read a book in its entirety. If one day I were to take up this weird practice, I'd probably give James Joyce's Ulysses another whirl.