Noelle McCarthy on fairytales, which poets speak to her and the lasting worthiness of Dracula and Jane Eyre.
What book caused you to love reading?
I don’t remember not reading. It was fairy tales I think, to begin with. According to my mother, at the age of 3 or 4, I refused to go to sleep unless there was a copy of Red Riding Hood under my bed. I was fixated on the wolf, apparently. I don’t remember that in particular, just a whole flood of ugly ducklings, and wicked stepmothers and woodcutters and golden geese. It was probably The Collected Sherlock Holmes though, a big compendium of all the Sherlock Holmes stories which I read when I was about 8 or 9 that got me reading with a vengeance. Those are the first stories I remember falling into head first, a whole world of Victorian London and this marvellous hero with all his accomplishments and quirks and how he applied the science of deduction to these wonderful, exotic, terrifying mysteries. The plots were incredible. I dived in and I never wanted to come out.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Tim Wilson’s Their Faces Were Shining, in preparation for an interview with the author. The book is tremendous, which from an interviewers point of view is a relief. I’m also slowly, laboriously, making my way through The Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle, to get the skinny on how to be good, and live a good life. And I’m rereading Mary Karr’s memoir of alcoholism and conversion Lit. Mary Karr is tough, and funny and holy, and it is so easy to fall into her story of drunkeness and redemption and grace. This must be my third time reading it, the writing sings off the page.
Which book have you re-read the most?
Probably a toss-up between Dracula and Jane Eyre. These are my two favourite books, and also my two favourite stories, and they have a lot in common I suppose, taken as a pair. Both are Victorian novels of suspense and melodrama, full of characters who are headstrong and misguided by turns, also morally conflicted, sexually confused, highly emotional, overly voluble, and inclined to take themselves far too seriously at times. Reader, I identified with them. I read Dracula and Jane Eyre at least once a year. I love them both in a really straightforward, childish way.
Favourite book to film adaptation?
It hasn’t been made yet, but when David Fincher makes The Secret History, I’ll be first in the queue.
Who are your favourite poets?
TS Eliot, Patrick Kavanagh, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Ted Hughes. Canal Bank Walk by Patrick Kavanagh is probably my favourite poem.
Who or what impresses you most?
In fiction: Immediacy and specificity, or making the ordinary new.
In poetry: Colours and God.
What books are next to your bed?
(From Memory) Mary Carr Lit, Aristotle The Nichomachean Ethics, Nuala O Faoilean (Irish journalist) Are you somebody?, Patrick Kavanagh Collected Poems, King Tuts Dream Book ($1-Ponsonby Cancer Shop), Jonathan Franzen Freedom (Unread)
What’s your idea of happiness?
Being Irene Adler and impressing Sherlock Holmes.
Favourite Literary Quote:
“Unheard-of combinations of circumstances demand unheard-of rules”
– Mr Rochester, Jane Eyre
“There are darknesses in life, and there are lights, and you, Madam Mina, are one of the lights”
– Van Helsing Dracula
“You know a conjuror gets no credit once he has explained his trick”
– Sherlock Holmes
You can hear Noelle mornings on National Radio where she’s currently hosting Summer Noelle.