Sathnam Sanghera's Desert Island Books

Sathnam Sanghera's Desert Island Books

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe

Every time I think of my ten favourite books, I come up with a different list of titles, but each effort features a Coe novel. I've settled for What a Carve Up! in the end because BBC Radio 4's recent dramatisation has provided a reminder of the book's stunning originality and comic brilliance. Critics have attacked What a Carve Up! for being too angry about Thatcherism and its effects, but it's an anger I identify with, and as Coe recently remarked – subtlety is overrated in writing.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
I think I began reading Waugh as a teenager simply because I wanted to be able to say I'd read everything written by at least one major English novelist, and Waugh wrote a relatively small number of books. As it happens, I still haven't read the Sword of Honour trilogy, but I must have read this classic ten times now. A definitive English comic novel.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd
A book that will make you laugh, cry and think about what you want from your life and relationships. What else could you want in a novel? I must have bought it for about 20 people now.



Collected Stories William Trevor
Profoundly insightful, heartbreakingly beautiful. Read a story each night before you go to sleep and you'll have two of the most enjoyable months of your life.


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Funny, tragic, sublime. I wish his endings weren't always so relentlessly bleak though.



The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
A book I enjoyed as a teenager, and a book I re-read as an adult and enjoyed in a completely different way. Perfectly executed. Haven't managed to get into anything else by Fowles though. The Magus was terrible.


The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
In his preface to the New York Edition to The Wings of the Dove James outlined what he thought were faults in his novel: inelegant structure, weak characterisation, etc. But he was wrong. It's the finest novel he wrote, which of course means it is perhaps the finest novel ever written.


This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
I’ve been obsessed with Junot Diaz ever since I picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I think Diaz is the most original voice to have appeared in last decade. As it happens, I was initially wary of this collection of short stories just because it was so slim. It seemed cheeky to charge so much for so few words. But it totally blew my mind. Funny and moving and incredibly modern – the last story was so good that, as soon as I finished, I read it again.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri [pictured]
I made the mistake of reading some Lahiri when I was writing my new book Marriage Material and it made me want to give up entirely. I don’t know why anyone else even bothers to write when there is talent like this in the world – Lahiri is lucid in a way that is completely impossible to dissect. Her new one is up for the Booker, but this should have won it


The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett
Published in 1908, and about the lives of two sisters growing up in a drapery shop in the Potteries, The Old Wives' Tale provided part of the inspiration for Marriage Material. I loved it in large part because of the universality of Bennett’s themes: in particular, the generation gap, the clash between the provincial and the metropolitan, and the threat small communities face from industrialisation. 

But I was struck even more by the parallels between the world he describes and my own background as the child of Punjabi immigrants to the West Midlands. Life in the Potteries in Victorian times was hard and dangerous: just as life was for immigrants arriving to toil in Black Country factories in the 1950s and 1960s. Bennett’s characters were obsessed with the acquisition of money and social status, in the same way that Punjabi Sikh culture fetishises wealth over education. Then there is the novel’s presiding concern with marriage. Surreally, “Baines”, without the 'e', is a common Sikh surname. I would love it if my homage inspired people to give Bennett a chance.

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera is published by William Heinemann on 26 September.