|photo: Lucinda Douglas-Mendies
Eleanor Shearer lives in the U.K. For her Master's degree in Politics at the University of Oxford, she studied the legacy of slavery and the case for reparations, and her fieldwork in Saint Lucia and Barbados helped inspire her first novel, River Sing Me Home (Berkley, January 31, 2023), based on the stories of women who tried to put their families back together again after the abolition of slavery.
Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:
After the abolition of slavery, a mother in the Caribbean tries to find her stolen children.
On your nightstand now:
I'm currently reading Lustrum by Robert Harris, which is the second in his trilogy about Cicero and ancient Rome. I love the way he is able to draw you into quite a complicated and unfamiliar world by anchoring you in something universal--like ambition or betrayal.
Favorite book when you were a child:
When I was very young, my mother used to read me Anne of Green Gables, and I always hear it in her voice whenever I return to it! When I was older and reading for myself, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman probably had the biggest effect on me, especially as someone mixed-race who was figuring out what that meant. Reading a book with such nuanced racial politics helped me feel my way around race in our own world.
Your top five authors:
Annie Proulx--because of the way she writes about the natural world and brings to life these incredible landscapes, like Newfoundland in The Shipping News and Wyoming in Close Range.
Hilary Mantel--because no one else does historical fiction quite like she does.
Andrea Levy--because of the way Small Island and The Long Song deal with the painful parts of Black history whilst still having hope, humour and humanity.
Kazuo Ishiguro--because I recently read almost all of his work in very quick succession and loved how each book was so different in some ways (genre and setting) but treads familiar thematic ground of memory and what it means to serve one another.
Jane Austen--because the characters she created still feel so fresh hundreds of years later, and she is the master of acute social observation.
Book you've faked reading:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have read and enjoyed The Hobbit but found I could never get into the other books. But lots of my friends are passionate fans, so I have sometimes hidden this from them.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It's a sweeping, multigenerational epic about America and forests and the destruction of nature, starting in the 16th century and going all the way to the modern day. I recommend it to everyone I know. One of my favourite things about it is that way that it ties together so many different parts of the world, with characters visiting places as far away as China or New Zealand. We so often learn history in these siloed ways that mean we forget that different countries' histories did intersect, and I think the book shows this beautifully.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It caught my eye in an airport bookshop, and I'm so glad it did because I devoured it in one sitting on the flight. It's incredible.
Book you hid from your parents:
I am lucky to have very open-minded parents when it came to books, so I never had to hide anything from them! We all happily read "serious" books alongside more fun and lighthearted ones. I was reading Twilight as a teenager while my mum had her romance novels set in the south of France and my dad had his John Grisham thrillers. It's a judgement-free zone!
Book that changed your life:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It was a combination of the right place and the right time. I studied it in English class with a truly wonderful teacher called Mr. Douglas, and he really brought the book to life for us. From then on, I knew I would always love literature.
Favorite line from a book:
"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." --Jeanette Winterson, The Passion
Five books you'll never part with:
Ironically, these are the books I'm most likely to part with, because I'm a huge believer in lending out books to friends if I've really loved them!
Real Life by Brandon Taylor. Set over a single weekend, achingly beautiful and with such precisely observed interactions between different characters.
Small Island by Andrea Levy. As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants, this book that captures their experience so perfectly is one of my all-time favourites.
Omeros by Derek Walcott. An epic poem by the Saint Lucian Nobel laureate. I have reread it about three or four times, and every time I get something more from it.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. Another book that seems to get better and better with every reread, and some of the images in it have seared themselves into my mind forever.
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. A nonfiction book about octopuses and their incredible, but almost alien, intelligence. Kickstarted a lifelong fascination with octopuses for me!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I won't give too much away, but the ending of it completely blindsided and destroyed me. I would love to experience that feeling again, though I would have to set aside a morning to be an emotional wreck if I did!
Book you unexpectedly enjoyed:
I read Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and absolutely loved it. I'm not typically a romance reader but have wanted to get into it recently, because I think it's good for writers to explore genres outside the ones they write in. This book convinced me I'd made a good call. I was completely swept along by the love story, and the characters felt fully realised and emotionally complex.