Tan Twan Eng's 6 favorite books about eclectic life experiences

The Malaysian novelist recommends works by Graham Swift, Penelope Lively and more

Tan Twan Eng.
Tan Twan Eng is the author of "The Gift of Rain," "The Garden of Evening Mists" and "The House of Doors"
(Image credit: Courtesy image )

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Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng is the author of "The Gift of Rain" and "The Garden of Evening Mists," a Booker Prize finalist. His new novel, "The House of Doors," fictionalizes a dramatic chapter in the life of British writer W. Somerset Maugham.

'Tenderness' by Alison MacLeod (2021)

Tenderness blends three stories: D.H. Lawrence’s final days, Jacqueline Kennedy’s interest in his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the book’s London obscenity trial. I’m not a Lawrence fan, but after reading Tenderness, I was compelled to pick up Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I had given up on over 30 years ago. Buy it here.

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'Earthly Powers' by Anthony Burgess (1980)

Burgess’ novel is narrated by a thinly fictionalized version of W. Somerset Maugham. It has, to me, the best opening line in a novel, ever: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” Buy it here.

'Waterland' by Graham Swift (1983)

It’s hard to believe that Waterland is 40 years old. The novel is so saturated with a sense of place that I was surprised — and slightly disillusioned — to read Swift admit he had never been to the Fens when he wrote the novel and had only seen the low- lying English wetlands once, from a train. Buy it here.

'The Casuarina Tree' by W. Somerset Maugham (1926)

Six short stories drawn from Maugham’s travels in Malaya in the 1920s, including one of his most famous: “The Letter,” which was based on the 1911 murder trial of Ethel Proudlock —  the first Englishwoman charged with that crime in Malaya. Buy it here.

'The Empty Family' by Colm Tóibín (2011)

Tóibín’s prose is rich and dense with suppressed emotions in these stories about quiet lives and hidden longings. One highlight is “Silence,” about Lady Gregory’s meeting with Henry James and what she says — and what she cannot say — to the writer. Buy it here.

'Moon Tiger' by Penelope Lively (1987)

Prickly historian Claudia lies dying in her hospital bed. We drift along with her on her memories: of lovers, her brother and her daughter. The final paragraph is a masterclass of understated writing. Lively doesn’t describe Claudia’s passing, but something has changed and we suddenly realize that life itself has, almost unnoticed, depleted from the room. And yet, the world goes on. Buy it here.

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