An interview about two books

Listen to an interview about two books to practise and improve your listening skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.


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.

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Worksheet109.13 KB

Language level

C1 English level (advanced)

Submitted by jmajo on Thu, 02/06/2022 - 15:52


No I don’t, because real life has enough sadness and darkness involved and there’s no need to add more of it reading those kind of books, I do like to read biographies about people whom overcame difficult or dark backgrounds from childhood and then used that experiences as inspiration to achieve great things to help avoid similar situations to others in the future.

Thanks for the episode.
Great site!

Submitted by aliberenice on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 21:03


I absolutely enjoy reading this kind of books, where suspense and thrill takes place ,though I wonder which book is the trendiest in this genre now, any suggestions, I'm open to pick them .

Submitted by Mariana133 on Mon, 07/03/2022 - 20:26


I suppose it would be beneficial do define the term "a dark book". In my eyes, a dark book is a creepy book about unpleasant creatures and things which are not real or widely known. Frankly speaking, this genre is not my cup of tea. I reckon that these books don`t bring any benefits to society or to a reader. It is hard to say whether it is possible to obtain a useful information from those fictional narratives. Moreover, they can easily influence your mood and make you scared or depressed, so don`t immerse yourself in this stuff very much!

Submitted by misty on Wed, 12/01/2022 - 20:25


Sadly to say, I prefer watching movies than reading books. Is "Twilight," considered as a dark book? Because from what I remember this was adapted from a book series before it was made as a movie.

Submitted by Suraj paliwal on Wed, 13/10/2021 - 10:05


No, I don't like dark books. I like patriotic bioks and romantic and horror story

Submitted by Suraj paliwal on Wed, 28/04/2021 - 15:34

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.

Submitted by zeynep nur on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 12:08

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

Submitted by Diogo1606 on Tue, 23/02/2021 - 01:04

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.
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Submitted by El Cuy Mágico on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 20:41

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".
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Submitted by Hennadii on Wed, 20/01/2021 - 10:23

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.
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Submitted by Riza on Sat, 02/01/2021 - 10:18

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.
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Submitted by danisep on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 22:37

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.

Submitted by Vadim_SPb on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 21:09

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

Submitted by Tamaira Lamk on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 03:05

Unfortunately, I am not a very good reader. When I choose to read, though, I like fiction novels, or novels based on historic facts. I also like a bit of a mystery, which can have dark undertones, but generaly speaking, dark books won't be my first choice for a book to read.

Submitted by Tamaira Lamk on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 02:56

I was unable to drag and drop all the sentences in the appropriate group in task 1. Am I missing something?

Hi Tamaira Lamk,

When you want to move a sentence into a group, you have to click on it first, and then click on the grey box that you want to move it to (not drag and drop).

Be careful to click on the grey box, and not on any answers that are already in the box. If you do that, it will replace the answer instead of adding it to the box.

I hope that helps. 

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mad-physicist on Wed, 26/08/2020 - 18:34

I read dark books more often than the lighter ones. That's because, I think books with a good ending make me more think more romantically about the life and the way things will go. When it comes to light books, you know things will change in a good way after some point. But in the life that's not the case.

Submitted by ignacio perez on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 09:16

Hi, could you explain what is the best way to do Task 2? I first listen to the audio; afterwards, I read the questions of Task 2, and finally, I listen to the audio again and answer the questions. Is it a good way? Or are you supposed to remember the audio by the time of reading the questions?
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 16:57

In reply to by ignacio perez


Hello Ignacio,

The way you do it sounds good to me, but there's nothing wrong with doing it other ways as well. I'd encourage you to experiment with different methods on other pages to see what seems to be most useful for you. In general, I think it's a good idea to listen to the audio (or read the transcript) at least a couple of times -- you'll probably get more out of it if so. 

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by serraemm on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 00:34

Dark is light in front of black. I am actually interested in stories which deal with murder, sexual assault, bullying, and familiar troubles. In fact, these topics are in everyone's lips nowadays, and reading a book may be truly helpful for someone in pain or even for those who are looking to learn about it. A dark book may be light for someone else life.

Submitted by kawa on Mon, 13/04/2020 - 19:00

From my perspective, reading dark books is a thousand times better than books with happy ends. To elaborate on this point, behind every dark book a massage that an author tries to convey to the readers. thus, they are more educational and about life though one has a bad feeling after finishing it.

Submitted by gorelikova_yulia on Mon, 02/03/2020 - 18:43

I like to read 'dark' books especially Russian classic literature. The last book that kind of genre I read is Poor people by Dostoevsky. The book is written to a similar second book in the podcast - in letters. You find out how people live approximately one hundred and fifty years ago, what kind of problems they dealt with. Their fates are difficult and complex. But it makes you think about your life, about your country and is that book relevant today.

Submitted by Jonas98 on Mon, 10/02/2020 - 10:47

I habe the Book really liked, because for me brings Peace and Harmony when I one so good written Book read. It is dark, but it is good. Very recommended!

Submitted by Evgeny N on Mon, 16/12/2019 - 10:55

I like books of one author who was mentioned in this audio: Lionel Shriver. I read "We need to talk about Kevin". It is a book with a very unexpected ending. For me it was not so easy to read this book because author uses very difficult words and her language is very complicated. But in spite of this this book is worth to read! There is another book of Lionel Shriver which I also recommend to read: "The new Republic".

Submitted by Mahmoud Samir on Mon, 09/12/2019 - 16:49

thanks a lot i have enjoyed this podcast, it's really interesting for me; as i like novels

Submitted by HelianG on Wed, 04/12/2019 - 19:27

personally I do not like dark books because normally they have sad endings, I prefer to read adventures books or scary books,they keep me on the edge of my seat,although I would like to give it a try.

Submitted by Adam83 on Mon, 30/09/2019 - 18:42

Hi, Could you please explain why the correct answer for the 2nd sentence in Task 2 is B? Thank you in advance. Regards, Adam
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 01/10/2019 - 06:37

In reply to by Adam83


Hello Adam83

Even though B is not the best summary of the reasons that Helen liked the book, it is clearly a better answer than the other two. On many official English language exams, the correct answer is not always the most satisfying answer, but it is clearly better than the other options, and so by the process of elimination, it is the correct answer. This is what we had in mind when we worded this question this way.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by eleh on Wed, 11/09/2019 - 19:40

Sometimes I like to read the "dark" books. Our life is not easy. There are good and bad things. Probably, these books will learn us to solve our own problems.
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Submitted by AL-Mustafa on Wed, 26/06/2019 - 10:18

For me , i don't like dark book and horrible movies , because for me it look more dramatic and it is presenting ideas not exist on our live and its can bring fear to people in nothing . For example the clown who kidnapped children and no one know where he take them .
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Submitted by Hoàng Nhung on Wed, 26/06/2019 - 09:01

I don't like to read dark books.

Submitted by VyacheslavKr on Wed, 24/04/2019 - 14:35

Thank you very much! This lesson is exactly my level of English. And a very interesting one.

Submitted by NKCHI on Tue, 09/04/2019 - 05:35

hi, it has an error with the listening file. Could someone check for us? Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 09/04/2019 - 06:37

In reply to by NKCHI

Hello NKCHI, I'm sorry to hear you're having problems with the audio. I've tested the audio and it is working correctly as far as I can tell, so the problem is a local one. Please check the settings on your device and perhaps try accessing the page from a different device (a laptop or desktop computer rather than a mobile device) to see if that helps. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RobRoy on Fri, 29/03/2019 - 15:44

Yes,I do like. The last dark book was THE NIGHT. The lowdown of the book is a story about the Holocaust it's written by a guy who had gone through this. I immersed myself in this story and need to say have begun to complain significantly less about difficulties with which I encounter in my life.