Reading with... Ella King

Ella King is a Singaporean author living in London. A graduate of Faber Academy's novel-writing program, she has worked as a corporate lawyer and for anti-human trafficking and domestic violence charities. Her debut novel is Bad Fruit (Astra House, August 23, 2022), a portrayal of a toxic mother-daughter relationship and a young woman's search for truth and liberation.   

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Girl on the cusp of womanhood uncovers the roots of her mother's destructive behavior and the shattering secrets at the centre of her own childhood.

On your nightstand now:

I'm writing my second novel about a grown-up Lolita struggling with motherhood, so these books are both bedtime reading and research: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, a deeply personal, urgent memoir on the impact of trauma on the body; Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson, which includes the Zeus poems examining the rage and devastation experienced by women in classic Greek mythology; and What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer, raw and honest poetry on the challenges and aspirations of modern-day motherhood.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (the U.S. version is called The Golden Compass), which my grandfather bought for me. Suddenly, I was immersed in this incredible setting where people's souls manifested as talking animals and following the story of this fierce, wild girl whose sole virtue is being an exceptionally good liar. Stunning. Many years later, I went to a book signing with Philip Pullman, who wrote "a thousand blessings" to me in his dedication. I almost cried.

Your top five authors:

Amy Tan for normalizing the Asian American experience, Ocean Vuong for the beauty of his prose and poetry, Hanya Yanagihara for daring to write a character who doesn't recover from trauma, Elena Ferrante for capturing the claustrophobia of talent in women and Deborah Levy for observations about mothers and motherhood that cut to the bone.  

Book you've faked reading:

My husband is a great reader of classics and, whilst I enjoy some of the classic female authors (Eliot, Austen, Brontë), I struggle to get more than a few pages into Russian literature.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Meg Mason's Sorrow and Bliss, which I finished on a train journey from London and back, utterly captivated by the honesty, humour and roller-coaster ride that is Martha. Now, more than ever, it's so important that fiction fearlessly address taboo subjects like mental health. And, obviously, I'm in love with Patrick, along with thousands of other fans.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I confess my problem with covers: when I love a book, I buy different versions, a sort of declaration of my feelings. Case in point is Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which I love because of its challenge to traditional understandings of innocence, shame, sex and trauma. I have three versions--a complete set of Thomas Hardy's works, which I tell myself is far too heavy to read; a paperback version; and a beautiful 1974 edition I bought in Dorset near Thomas Hardy's cottage.

Book you hid from your parents:

My parents took a divided approach to books. My father loved reading. We spent many happy Saturday afternoons together browsing bookstores, but my mother felt the opposite. She was a tiger mum who thought "stories" were frivolous unless they were about business or law or management (except for John Grisham, who fictionalized the corporate world), so I hid most of my reading from her. My sister and I had a wardrobe that lit up when you opened it; we'd pretend to go to bed early and read under the strip light.   

Book that changed your life:

Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife. Not as well-known as The Joy Luck Club and far darker, The Kitchen God's Wife is the closest to Amy Tan's mother's own experience of surviving during World War II. Mothers and daughters trying desperately to communicate across cultures, buried secrets spawning fiercely held misunderstandings, the brutal reality of domestic violence during war--this book not only reflected my grandmother's experience in China but also made me realize my family's story wasn't unique and that I wasn't alone in my separateness and connectedness to both white and Asian culture.

Favorite line from a book:

For me, no one but Ocean Vuong captures the violence and beauty of being raised in the legacy of war. These lines from On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous devastate me every time: "All this time I told myself we were born from war--but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty. Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence--but that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it."

Five books you'll never part with:

Being an Asian female reader can be a lonely experience. Books that speak to any part of that are few and far between. The books that do achieve this, however, I read over and over, refusing to buy new copies when the covers fall off or when the pages are waved from reading in the bath. Because you don't throw away books like Jing-Jing Lee's How We Disappeared, which reflects your own family's experience during a forgotten war; Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, which observes the tensions and misunderstandings between first-generation Asian mothers and their daughters; the essays in East Side Voices, edited by Helena Lee, and The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, which challenge me to find my unique identity and voice within predominately white culture; and Lisa Taddeo's Three Women, which is so painfully honest about the female collision of sex and desire.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. As a teenager, I read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre before Wide Sargasso Sea and never gave a passing thought to the monstrous woman in the attic. Wide Sargasso Sea, the feminist prequel to Jane Eyre, was my first taste of startling, lush prose, of the subversiveness of untold stories, of women finding power in the midst of their victimhood, of the fact that "there is always the other side, always."

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