Douglas Kennedy’s 12 previous novels include critically acclaimed bestsellers The Big Picture and The Pursuit of Happiness. His work has been translated into 22 languages. In 2007, he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His new novel Afraid of the Light was published Wednesday by Hutchinson.
The books at your bedside?
Louis Menand epic historical / cultural fresco , what I truly witnessed as a mid-century American that had such an impact on my sensitivity and so informs in my fiction. Once finished, I intend to counter this cerebral but convincing tome with one of the great classics of American pulp fiction: the novel by Charles Willeford. Cockfighter.
The first book you remember?
The phantom toll by Norman Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. I read it two years after its release in 1961 (so I was eight at the time). A slightly subversive children’s classic about a bored young boy who drives his toy car through a magical tollgate in the Realm of Wisdom. There is a metaphor here, I think.
Your favorite literary character?
Nick Carraway, the narrator of Gatsby the magnificent; an initiate who is the eternal outsider… and who always observes all the comers. In short, exactly like me.
Your book of the year?
I reread – for the first time since high school – Ray Bradbury’s great dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. Released in 1953 amid Cold War fear and McCarthyist paranoia, this vision of a totalitarian world where all books are burned and all citizens turn to screens of diversion and knowledge controlled by the State now looks scary.
The book that changed your life?
Graham Greene The end of the case: a novel that tackles questions of love and possession and the intricacies of faith amid so many personal doubts. I remember buying it on a damp Saturday afternoon at Hodges Figgis during my years in Dublin and finishing it at midnight. I was only 25 years old and after reading it I knew I wanted to become a novelist.
The book you couldn’t finish?
There are several – like Tristram Shandy and Finnegans Wake, which I actually tried to browse while I was at Trinity College Dublin. And that of Pynchon The rainbow of gravity it’s also something I should really try again.
Your Covid comfort reading?
David Goodis’ pulp classic Dark passage (which was also the basis of a fairly good film noir with Bogart and Bacall). A an escaped convict on the run, a socialite woman he meets by chance who welcomes him, a taxi driver who takes him to a plastic surgeon behind the scenes – yes, he has a new face – and a femme fatale who wants to be revenge. Tough American black at his best bias.
The book you are giving away?
As I’m quite a cinephile, I have a weakness for François Truffaut’s interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (Truffaut / Hitchcock) – a cinematic act of love from one of the main supporters of the French New Wave (New Wave) to the director who was the master of human apprehension.
The writer who shaped you?
Without a doubt Graham Greene – who has managed to marry brilliant narrative propulsion with larger questions about how and why we are still trapped in an existential dead end of our own making.
The book you would most like to be remembered?
Even though I don’t have a favorite The pursuit of happiness is the novel that readers keep telling me spoke to them in a profound way. I’m writing this from Barcelona where I hosted a bookstore event last night and three readers told me that “The Pursuit…” remains one of their favorite modern novels. I was touched. We all read and write to remind ourselves: we are not alone.