An interview about two books

An interview about two books

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

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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.


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Submitted by sabilaferisya on Sat, 27/04/2024 - 17:12


Personally, I enjoy reading dark books myself. Whether the sub-genre itself lays more towards thriller, mystery, or even drama; it's always enjoyable for me to read them because it helps me learn more about the world from a different lens or a different perspective. Not just about 'the world', I may learn more about human psychology from how a writer is describing a certain backstory of a character. It's always an interesting process for me to read these types of books, because I will always pick out something new and fascinating.

Submitted by iepenarandao96 on Fri, 22/03/2024 - 03:01


Well I'm not a great reader probably if I read two books in the year that's a lot for me but I'm more into science fiction books. I really like Issac Asimov's stories but from what I have read I consider that he can mention "dark" topics but he prefers to focus on the worldbuilding instead of delve into those topics. 

Submitted by Gallegos_03 on Mon, 22/01/2024 - 00:57


I like to read dark books if we are talking about paranormal things and murders, killers would be, if they are related to those topics I usually like them more, I wouldn't be sure if I went into "dark books"

Submitted by luizaproshina on Tue, 12/09/2023 - 19:02


Since i read We Need to Talk About Kevin and i really liked it, if honest, this book had impressed and shocked me so much, i can tell, that i love such books, without happy ending. Especially books about upbringing. In such kind of books you can always recognize yourself and problems of your family or you might think about the way of upbringing your children and how you can escape from those problems if you do right things.
One of my favorite book among dark books about upbringing is Defending Jacob. I can highly recommend it.

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Submitted by Ramiro Solana on Wed, 06/09/2023 - 20:21


I didn't even know they were called dark books! What I look for in books is a well-written story regardless of its style: it can has suspense, action, romance, murder, and it can also be direct, psychological, philosophical, or fantastic. Anyway, I finally enjoy when I can empathize with the characters and when the story grabs me.

Submitted by Binhtran212 on Wed, 26/07/2023 - 17:47


I don't usually read dark books, this is the first time I've heard of it. Furthermore, I don't like reading books with sad endings. I will try to read the 2 stories that the narrator discusses in the listening

Submitted by lucidiante on Tue, 25/07/2023 - 11:18


yes, I like 'dark' books because we can see other situations in life from that ones, and we think broader about some aspects of life to have perfect consciousness.

Submitted by AhmadOmar on Mon, 01/05/2023 - 09:09

Permalink can take me where I can't get back,they have a strong power on changing mode.

Submitted by ANA GABRIELLA … on Fri, 28/04/2023 - 14:16


Yes, I like dark books because they get me in a reflective mood

Submitted by abdahuialameen on Wed, 29/03/2023 - 09:58


Honestly,I red many rang of book in my life and i have never been read book with that name so i am captivating to read it.