Michael Pennington, actor & memoirist: If Philip Roth is like Chekhov, Donna Tartt, is up there with Dickens

 

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I have views in two directions. A blackbird is sitting in a tree to the west, trying for a dawn chorus for one. On the other side the sun's rising like a flaming torch: it could be Africa.

What are you currently reading?

Philip Roth's Everyman. What a master. He makes the story of one man's terminal decline funny and somehow liberating, all in 180 pages.

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire her/him

Donna Tartt, for The Goldfinch. If Roth is like Chekhov, she is up there with Dickens. Incredible detail, tension and depth. Eight hundred pages and she could have done another 800.

Describe the room where you usually write

I often sit up in bed to write, like Colette.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Strider the decrepit old horse in Tolstoy's story, Kholstomer – I once played him and it was my happiest part. He's bullied by the younger horses in the paddock until they realise he has a brilliant past: one moonlit night he tells them his life story as a champion racer and great prince's favourite, with silken reins and a harness of silver buckles. They listen enraptured, and love him from then on. I seem to like this story…

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Florence Nightingale, both for what she did and how she criticised herself for failing. She changed the world but still doubted herself. What a woman: brilliant, stubborn and self-punishing.

Michael Pennington's 'Let Me Play the Lion Too' is published by Faber & Faber. He will be talking at a National Theatre Platform event in the Dorfman Theatre in London on Monday 9 February at 6pm

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