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Anna Funder

Wifedom is both an immovable and an irresistible book, an object and a force. Anna Funder, the author some years back of the bestselling Stasiland (2003), has written another great and important narrative of oppression and covert suppression, in this case of the first Mrs George Orwell, Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905–45). The oppression and suppression are or were the work of her liberal and emancipatory husband – the nearest thing we have these days to a lay saint – and of his six (male) biographers. While nowhere a nasty book (what the Americans would call ‘mean’), it’s a kind of St George and the six dwarves. What’s strange is the persistence of the old bromides. In a recent Guardian review of D.J. Taylor’s Orwell: The new life (2023) – the biographer’s second go-around – Blake Morrison refers to ‘the practical Orwell’ and ‘the complaisant Eileen’. He wouldn’t have said either thing if he’d been able to read Funder’s new book.

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Early success is no guarantee of a book’s continued availability or circulation. Some major and/or once-fashionable authors recede from public consciousness, and in some cases go out of print. We invited some writers and critics to identity novelists who they feel should be better known.

The heroine of All That I Am reflects that an author’s published books ‘preserve the fossil imprint on the world of that particular soul at that particular time’. In her début novel – based on real characters and events – acclaimed non-fiction author Anna Funder (Stasiland, 2003) has preserved the imprint of a particular group of souls at a vitally important historical moment. A beautifully executed blend of historical fiction and psychological thriller, it follows the lives of a London-based network of activist refugees from Hitler’s Germany.

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I write to understand the world, and also to find out what I think. When I look at something very closely (whatever it is: fruit bats or space travel or a particular situation), it seems to expand; to contain allusive meanings I wouldn’t see if I weren’t writing about it. My books are also about honouring otherwise forgotten people whom I find extraordinary.

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