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My hero is Jakob von Gunten, star of, well, Jakob von Gunten, Robert Walser’s singular novel about a school for servants. I love the quality of Jakob’s subversion in that lovely, strange, tiny place. And my heroine: Theodora Goodman, the eponymous aunt of Patrick White’s The Aunt’s Story, who is glorious and difficult and bewildering and kind.

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This is not the age of criticism. Theory killed criticism. This is the age of reviewing and commentary.

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It’s always dangerous, I believe, to have heroes, but I do admire the author who gave us the wonders of Anna Karenina, say, and to come back to Conrad, how about this first paragraph of Lord Jim? ‘He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop to the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a barging bull’. I am in awe of Jim, with his ‘ability in the abstract’.

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I seem to dream more awake than I do asleep. As a child, I often acted out imaginary scenarios, speaking the various parts aloud. Every so often I’ll catch myself doing it again.

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I love pop music that makes me want to dance and fills my heart with joy. Michael Jackson used to be my man. My current favourite song is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. I’m living in Brooklyn at the moment and the song has been bursting out of the window of every second car all summer long. But if we’re talking desert island albums, I’d be taking some Miles Davis with me. Kind of Blue maybe, or fast forward a few decades to Bitches Brew.

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I don’t understand happiness – it always feels coercive – and because of this I don’t understand why the promotion of products that bring happiness holds such wide appeal. I associate consciousness with anxiety: whatever takes you out of yourself brings a kind of relief from this. This can include writing, but also dreaming.

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I have broad tastes: Jimmy Little, Sufjan Stevens, Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, P.J. Harvey, Lorde, Gurrumul, Powder-finger, Karma County, Sex Pistols, Paris Combo … I’d like to be able to drop some more highbrow names into the mix, but honestly I never listen to Mozart or Bach.

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Virginia Woolf wrote somewhere that the reason she resented death was because it was the one experience she’d never describe. Art gives shape to what’s happened to you, so it is therapy, but therapy plus form and myth and poetry. I like the double pay-off of writing alone, then handing it over to others to fill the images with living bodies.

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When not preferring silence, I like to listen to Leonard Cohen and Emmylou Harris, but a friend recently introduced me to the early music ensemble, Accordone (Marco Beasley and Guido Morini).

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I tend to reread The Sun Also Rises every year, if only to remind myself of what it was like to be eighteen or nineteen and overcome by the initial excitement, the shock, of something fresh and distinctive.

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