The author of Fingersmith on why she might finally read the Iliad

Sarah Waters is the author of six novels: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith (which was shortlisted for The Booker Prize), The Night Watch, The Little Stranger, and The Paying Guest.

Like many things that the lockdown is bringing into crisp, bittersweet focus—birdsong, spring shadows, the rueful smiles of strangers on the street as they jink and dodge in an effort to keep a distance from each other—my literary pleasures right now seem to have an extra intensity. My bedtime novel is Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, an evocative feminist retelling of the Achilles myth which is making me think it really might be time, finally, to settle down with The Iliad… My non-fiction excitements are coming from the post-war journals of one of my favourite diarists: Frances Partridge. Partridge was involved with the Bloomsbury set, and her multi-volume diaries offer fascinating glimpses of some of the great artists and writers of the twentieth century. But she was a fine author in her own right, a committed pacifist, deeply reflective, and I’m drawing great comfort from the clarity, warmth, and wisdom with which she wrote about the political and cultural uncertainties of the post-Hiroshima age.

My biggest consolations in this unnerving time, however, have come from poetry. This has taken me by surprise because I’m not usually much of a poetry reader. But when the lockdown began, a friend had the genius idea of inviting a group of mates to start a little online poetry club: we take it in turns to choose and share a poem, one for each day of the week, and the resulting bulletins of morning lyricism, from a diverse range of poets—among them Rilke, Cavafy, Eileen Myles, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks—have been an absolute blessing and joy.

See what Olivia Laing and Durga Chew-Bose have been reading under lockdown.