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An interview about two books

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Presenter: Today we're looking at the darker side of literature with two books about not-so-happy families. And we've got writer Helen Slade and book critic Anna Kimura to talk us through them. First up, we're looking at Her Mother's Daughter by Alice Fitzgerald, a novel written from two points of view, one of a child and the other of her very troubled mother. Helen, I have to be honest. I found this one hard to read. It's very well written but, well, how did you find it?

Helen: I know what you mean, but I literally couldn't put it down and stayed up till three in the morning to finish it. There's something about immersing yourself in a family this flawed, this damaged, that's compelling. You'd never want to be in that family yourself, but that's what reading is about, isn't it? Wearing someone else's shoes for a while without ever having to live their reality.

Presenter: You surprise me! The families in your own books are a million miles away from this one.

Helen: Yeah, my readers can always be sure they're going to get a happy ending. Which you definitely ... I don't want to give too much away here, but you definitely don't feel like a happy ending is coming for these characters.

Presenter: OK, so don't mention the ending, but can you just describe for listeners what the book is about?

Helen: So, it's about a family with secrets. The mother has hidden her troubled childhood from her husband and her two children but, of course, it's shaped her entire personality and how she behaves as a mother and as a wife. Which is especially obvious when we're reading the sections told in the child's voice, even though the little girl herself doesn't understand the meaning of everything she's seeing.

Presenter: For me, what was really so shocking was less what happened to the mother when she was a child but how the mother treated her own children. Why is that, do you think?

Helen: I think we're all programmed to see mothers as something sacred and pure. As a child she was mistreated by her father, and in some ways we're not that shocked by that, which is a sad thing in itself, and her own mother didn't help her. As a reader we're less affected by that, I think, because that part of the story is revealed to us in the mother's voice, the adult voice. But the reason the way she treats her own child is so much more shocking is that the child is telling us about it and we sympathise with her. It's very clever how the author plays on our natural instincts to protect a child.

Presenter: Though we do feel sorry for the mother too. Or, at least, I did.

Helen: It's hard not to. She's trapped in her own unhappiness.

Presenter: And we're trapped right there with her as the reader. It made me wonder, Anna, why is it that miserable books like this one sell so well?

Anna: Because all of us have families. I suppose the books play out things we all see in much smaller ways in our own family lives.

Presenter: The other hard-hitting book this week is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Now there's a family who have a problem!

Anna: They definitely do. Very few people will ever have a killer as a teenage son like the narrator in the book, but we can all identify with the challenges and often terrifying reality of raising teenagers!

Presenter: So can you give us the lowdown on Kevin, then, Anna?

Anna: This book is written from the point of view of the mother in letters she's writing to her husband, Kevin's father. Again, we shouldn't say too much about the ending, but the way the author uses the letters is very clever.

Presenter: I have to admit, I really enjoyed this book. It's a difficult topic, but it was much easier to read than Her Mother's Daughter.

Anna: As Helen said before, it's about the voice of the narrator. There's no child's voice and, in this story, the victims in many ways are the adults, though, of course, Kevin's sister is a victim of her brother's evil.

Helen: Yes, and the idea of where 'evil' comes from is a theme that comes out in both books. If you choose to call it 'evil' that is. I prefer to describe it as a complete lack of empathy. The mother in Her Mother's Daughter had a terrible childhood, but Kevin's from a happy home and good parents.

Presenter: Is he though? The mother often admits she found motherhood hard. Aren't we supposed to think she might have caused Kevin to turn out the way he does? Just like in Her Mother's Daughter.

Anna: Both books certainly look at how the mistakes of the parents affect children. And this is another reason we relate to these books. Parents are always worrying if they're doing a good job.



Language level

Advanced: C1


No, I don't read any dark book. I like to read romantic books and love stories. I also like to read biography. Because this makes me a positive person. In this time I don't read any book I prepare my graduation exam.

i like reading various kind of books especially 'dark' short stories but sometimes they make me feel depressed.

I don't usually read dark books because I'm very sensitive and I'm afraid of things such as blood and death. But I like reading books with sad endings. The last one I read was a dramatic romance called "Call Me By Your Name". I finished yesterday.

Nope, because I've never read a "dark book" before and I don't know if it would be as good as a movie because you know, the special effects are amazing nowadays. But I am quite interested in reading this type of text. In fact, I just started reading "Anne Frank, a Girl's Diary", but I'm not sure if it could be considered "dark".

First of all, I would like to admit, I'm a bookworm. I like reading, I read a lot and reading is my best way to relax.
I read different kinds of books: some of them are 'light' but some are 'dark'. I think I agree with Helen here - we all want to have a happy family but that doesn't mean we aren't ready to immerse oneself in the unhappy ones. I guess, everyone wants to know what's happening beyond our level. And, of course, I'm sure we need to know about this side of life to not turn out our in it.
Another point is - how these 'dark' books about someone's horrible life can help the reader to cope with his own hidden secrets, worries and fears. Maybe, if you allow to pass through yourself the character's bad life, you can let go your own troubles.

As far as I understood 'dark' book means sad story books?! I have never read two books, which were mentioned in this poadcast. However after listening about the plot of the stories I really want to read them! I am not a huge fan of such genre of books, but I read one of them called 'The catcher in the Rye' by J. D. Salinger. I really like the character of this book and I was fascinated by his way of thinking, even though he was just a teenager.

Yes, I like to read dark books all those freaky stories get my attention. The last dark book that I read was veronica decide morir. I am looking for an English book to put on practice my reading skills, I was reading Alice in Wonderland. I have just read the first two pages and it is a lot different to read for example comments or this text like how there is here in this page in comparison with a book.

Hello everybody!
Who can help me with the sentence:
"Now there's a family who have a problem!" - why there is "have" form of verb? As I think the presenter is saying about 1 family, isn't it?

Hello Vadim_SPb,

When the subject of a verb refers to a group of people, in British English it is very common to use a plural verb form, even though the subject is singular in form. There is nothing wrong with saying 'has' here, and in fact that is the only correct form in American English.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thanks a lot for your help.
Best Wishes,