Hilary Mantel's Life in Books

The Wolf Hall author on the literature that's shaped her


As Wolf Hall opens on Broadway, the Booker Prize-winning author shares the books that shaped her life


The Dressmaker, Beryl Bainbridge

This is a blackly comic murder story set in wartime Liverpool. Bainbridge walked the line between funny and tragic. When you find an author you strongly identify with, it boosts your confidence as a writer.


Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson

I was eight when I was given this book for Christmas by my mother, and it was the beginning of my life as a writer. I adored the vigour of the language and I see now how influential it’s been in my own work. I read it every year – it’s a perfect novel.



Migraine, Oliver Sacks

This book helped me understand the medical condition I suffer from. For days leading up to an attack, I would be in a fog. I have sometimes thought that a migraine is almost an aspect of creativity, in that it’s a price paid for intense spells of work.


Sword Of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh

As a teenager, I thought of books as instruction manuals; you learn a lot about life from fiction. I reread these books three years ago and met my former self on the pages. The trilogy has an epic quality yet, because it’s focused on one man, it is also intimate.


Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

My mother told me I was too young [nine] to read this, so you can imagine how that drove me on. Jane Eyre is a big book for women who are going to become writers, because Jane is an observer, so you feel you’re reading about yourself for the first time.


Good Behaviour, Molly Keane

I really wish I had written this book. It’s a tragi-comedy set in Ireland after the First World War. A real work of craftsmanship, where the heroine is also the narrator, yet has no idea what is going on. You read it with mounting horror and hilarity as you begin to grasp her delusion.

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