Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s Cultural Primers for THE SON OF MAN

Jean-Baptise Del Amo, author of The Son of Man, tr. Frank Wynne, publishing 23 May 2024, shares his list cultural primers that inspired the writing of his latest novel. Click here to read an extract and order the book.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
I remember the opening vividly, Addie’s character waiting for her death, sitting at a window watching her son building her coffin. The memory I have from this reading probably influenced a scene at the end of The Son of Man. But I can’t spoil it, you’ll have to read it. 

The Banishment dir. by Andreï Zvyagintsev (2008)
I’ve chosen this film for its mythical dimension and sumptuous images. It’s the story of a man who  brings his wife and their children on a trip to his childhood home in the countryside.

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)
I’ve always been fascinated by this painting, with its beauty and profound mystery.

‘Debris’ from Debris by Keeley Forsyth (2020)
A haunting and beautiful album that I discovered while working on my novel. 

The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
I was a big fan of King’s books as a teenager and he’s one of the authors who made me realize how much I wanted to tell stories.

A Whiter Shade of Pale from Procul Harum by Procol Harum (1967)
I included some of these beautiful and mysterious lyrics in the French edition of the novel. Much to my regret, it wasn’t possible to do so in the English edition due to copyright reasons. I suppose English readers will have to play the tune while reading, and perhaps slow dance.


Dan Fox, author of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, published in our b-format paperback format on 17 April 2024, shares some musical references that informed the book and his life. Listen to the full playlist here.

‘2HB’ from Roxy Music by Roxy Music (1972)

The word ‘pretentious’ is frequently used as a cudgel of conformity, a way of telling people to know their place. Those who use it often make assumptions on behalf of others about what constitutes ‘authentic’ behaviour. Roxy Music co-founder Brian Eno was the son of a postman and lead singer Bryan Ferry was from a coal-mining family. The band, products of the 1960s British art school system, were interested in the uses of surface and collage, in self-created identity, the tensions between artifice and authenticity. This languid, dreamy track dedicated to Humphrey Bogart is about fandom and the desire, as Eno put it, ‘to find out what it would be like to be otherwise’.

‘Common People’ from Different Class by Pulp (1995)

A classic track about downwardly-mobile play-acting. But you know that, because only in Britain could a band have a Top Ten hit about class dissimulation.

‘David Bowie Wants Ideas’ from Box of Bongwater by Bongwater (1998)

‘I received a toy xylophone in the mail, and it was sent by David Bowie, saying to come visit him in his recording studio… Apparently he had sent many people the same xylophone with the same request, saying he was working on a new record, and anyone with some ideas should come visit him. I thought, yeah, he’ll take everybody’s ideas and we’ll never hear from him again…’

‘Do the Method’ from This Is It by The Method Actors (2010)

I chose the songs on this list for their relationship to the ideas in my book, not because I necessarily think they’re ‘pretentious.’ (They may be that too. You decide.) The Method Actors came from Athens, Georgia, part of the same scene in the 1980s that included REM and the B-52s. The lyrics to this song are caked in so much New Wave-style yelp and yowl that I can’t work them out. But based on the title, let’s assume – or pretend – that they’re singing about one of the central themes of Pretentiousness: acting. Director and teacher Lee Strasberg developed his acting technique, The Method, at The Actor’s Studio in New York in the late 1940s. Students were encouraged to physically live through the experiences of the characters they played in order to achieve a more ‘authentic’ performance. In preparing to write Pretentiousness, for fifteen years I pretended to be a writer. Ten years on from its publication, I have found impossible to extract myself from the role, and no closer to the truth of it.

‘Girl VII’ from Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne (1991)

This song is the thread that runs through the epilogue to Pretentiousness. Halfway through the track is a spoken-word section which lists off place names, alternating between stations on the London Tube map and cities across the world. Perhaps it’s embarrassing to say, but I find it deeply romantic, and embarrassment and romance are part of pretension. It’s about transforming the here-and-now with a dream of far-off places, and about recognizing the poetry in what’s closest to hand. ‘Canonbury, Alice Springs, Tooting Graveney, Baffin Island, Pollard’s Hill, Winnipeg, Plumstead Common, Hyderabad, Silvertown, Buffalo.’

‘Got to Be Real’ from Cheryl Lynn by Cheryl Lynn (1978)

Does it? Do I? Are you?

‘I Was a Maoist Intellectual’ from Tender Pervert by Momus (1988)

I included a story about Momus, aka Nick Currie, in Pretentiousness. The broadcaster Andrew Marr had written an exhibition review for the Observer newspaper. He picked on a couple he’d spotted at the show to whom he took a dislike, describing them as part of ‘a vast nomadic group, mostly young, urban, clever, a little intimidating, given to expensive hodden clothes and rimless glasses’. At the end of his piece, the critic declared, ‘I hate them.’ The couple happened to be Currie and his girlfriend, and Currie recognized himself. ‘The more I think about it,’ he wrote afterwards, ‘the more disturbed I get that this sort of thing – an unashamed and blatantly expressed hatred of sophistication – is what passes in the UK for cultural coverage.’

‘Leading a Double Life’ from Out of the Blue by ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny (1978)

This gorgeous ballad is one part country, two parts Great American Songbook, three parts metaphysics. I used a verse for the epigraph to Pretentiousness. I’d say the song is about how we present different facets of ourselves according to who we’re with. But it will resonate differently with me tomorrow. All the most meaningful songs work like that.

‘Me Myself and I’ from 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul (1989)

A song about not letting people judge you by your image, and about the importance of being yourself, your other self and your other other self. It’s that old Walt Whitman line: ‘Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)’

‘Munchausen’ from Dance and Walk by No Bra (2006)

A satire of the most insufferable species of art-savant, five-dimensional-bragging about how well-travelled, well-connected, wealthy, poor, chronically ill, subversive, creative, ethically superior and sexually adventurous they are. I used to meet a lot of people like that. These days I avoid them by staying home and reading. This song’s references have changed in the 20 years since it came out, but show-offs are eternal. Deep down, I would be horrified if they disappeared, not only for comedy’s sake, but for the possibility that there still remains – even in such a miserably fragmented and ennui-blitzed period as now – the idea that art might be something worth boasting about. 

‘Pretend’ from Pretend by Nat King Cole (1952)

‘The little things you haven’t got, could be a lot, if you pretend.’ These days we call that magical thinking, or ‘manifesting’. Or method acting. 

‘The Truth’ from The Truth by Prince (1998)

I love the line in this song that goes: ‘If there was just one day, that everyone tell the truth, we’d all trade bank accounts, and move back to Neptune.’ Every accusation of pretension says something about the accuser’s sense of their own authenticity. Real-deal vs. faker. Reading Prince’s unfinished, posthumous memoir The Beautiful Ones, there is a recurring sense that he recognized a productive conduit running between truth and pretence. He talks about being himself, he talks about constructing a fantasy. Sometimes it’s for technical reasons, such as playing all the instruments in the studio: to achieve the right intensity of performance ‘you have to pretend each time that this is going to be your only track and that you’re the only guy who’s going to play that instrument’. Sometimes it’s about image. Describing how his early fans dressed up, he says: ‘once you got your thing right, you’d stop looking at someone else. You’d be yourself and you’d feel comfortable.’ He wants other artists to be distinctive, to not fit in: ‘Sometimes I just wish that when I turn on the radio I could get that many different colors … I’m an alternative. I’m something else. And I long to hear something else from everybody.’ He asks his fans to think outside themselves. People would turn up on his doorstep and ‘make a really strange request from the call box outside … I’ll say, “Think about what you’re saying. How would you react if you were me?”’

‘Wuthering Heights’ from The Kick Inside by Kate Bush (1978)

A song inspired by the Emily Brontë novel of death and desire on the Yorkshire moors. It reached number one in five different countries. In 2022, her song ‘Running Up that Hill (A Deal with God)’ – a song about empathy, about wanting to see a relationship from the other person’s perspective – hit over a billion streams on Spotify when it was re-released off the back of its use in the Stranger Things TV series. I like these facts. Kate Bush’s popularity runs counter to the belief that it’s ‘pretentious’ for pop musicians to draw on ideas beyond the dreary bounds of standard love songs, or that audiences don’t have an appetite for complexity. Pop music was built by amateurs and autodidacts. Its promiscuous history of influences consistently undermines assumptions about how so-called ‘elitist’ art forms – in this instance nineteenth century novels – travel.

Fitzcarraldo Editions Spring Events

19 April – Jacqueline Rose in conversation with Marina Benjamin at Cambridge Literary Festival

26 April – Clemens Meyer & Katy Derbyshire in conversation with Frank Wynne at Books Upstairs, Dublin

2 May – Jonathan Buckley in conversation with Nicholas Royle at Raremags, Stockport

9 May – Marianne Brooker in conversation with Rose Ruane at Brick Lane Bookshop, London

15 May – Jonathan Nunn in conversation with Owen Hatherley at London Review Bookshop

19 May – Adania Shibli at International Literary Festival, Dublin

Jonathan Buckley’s TELL reading list

Jonathan Buckley, the 2022 Novel Prize co-winner and author of Tell, published 28 March 2024, shares some books that inspired his novel. To read an extract and order the book visit our website.

Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg, tr. Jenny McPhee (2017) 
‘If read as a history, one will object to the infinite lacunae’, writes Natalia Ginzburg in her preface to this extraordinary, episodic story of her remarkable family. The gaps are a consequence of her exemplary honesty – ‘memory is ephemeral’, as she says, and she resists any inclination to smooth over the unfilled spaces by means of invention.

The Inquisitory by Robert Pinget, tr. Donald Watson (2003)
The narrator of Tell might be a very distant cousin of the protagonist of Pinget’s masterpiece, in which a garrulous manservant is interrogated at length about offences that may or may not have occurred in his employer’s château. The old man puts on a wonderful performance, a torrential recitation that deluges his questioner with more information – or misinformation – than any listener could possibly retain. 

Loving by Henry Green (2011) 
Henry Green is someone to whom I frequently return – he’s a superlative and eccentric craftsman, and he writes dialogue that scintillates. Doting, his final novel, is a Mozartian delight, in which every page consists almost entirely of direct speech, but the Green novel that has closest affinities with the big-house setting of Tell is Loving, a delicious concoction of below-stairs intrigue, gossip and sexual tension.

Lunar Follies by Gilbert Sorrentino (2005)
The narrator of Tell, who is deeply suspicious of the art world in which her employer is a significant player, might relish the virtuosic satire of Sorrentino’s collection of essayistic fictions, which presents us with a gallery of pretentiousness in multitudinous forms, all of them parodied in prose of baroque brilliance.

Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark (2018) 
Muriel Spark is another novelist whose work I read over and over again – I love her extreme concision, the severity of her wit, and her impatience with certain conventions of fiction – her disdain for suspense, for example. Not to Disturb isn’t the most highly regarded of her novels, but it’s one of my favourites. An off-kilter detective story, it’s set in a Swiss mansion, where the Baron and Baroness have shut themselves in the library with their attractive young secretary. Awaiting the inevitable but obscure crime of passion, the servants prepare to cash in on the imminent disaster. Mock-gothic elements are also at work – there’s a lunatic brother in the attic.

Things that Bother Me by Galen Strawson (2018)

I have never been persuaded by the widely accepted idea that one’s life should be understood as a story, and that a sense of oneself as a clearly defined protagonist of that story is essential to a meaningful existence. The narrativist fallacy is one of the topics that philosopher Galen Strawson addresses, with characteristic force and clarity, in this astringent collection. He also discusses the intractable problem of the nature of consciousness – a thing that bothers me too.

Anne de Marcken’s IT LASTS FOREVER AND THEN IT‘S OVER reading list

Anne de Marcken, the 2022 Novel Prize co-winner and author of It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over, published 7 March 2024, shares some books that inspired her novel. To read an extract and order the book visit our website.

The easiest companion reading list for me to assemble would be made of all the books from which the novel’s eight epigraphs are taken, but that feels like cheating. And really there are so many others – too many others. Here is just a handful specifically to do with monsters, monstrosity and grief:

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
I think it is the uncanny horror of this book that I love – a confusion between human and other that feels correct.

Autobiography of Red (1998) and Red Doc> (2013) by Anne Carson 
The monster protagonist of Carson’s Herakles retelling(s) exceeds his Western classical function as abject other, yet still lives – loves, suffers, goes on – in the register of mythos. 

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair (2016)
A book of the body – particular, collective, political, epic – these poems are the monster’s precise indictment of the master. Here are grief and rage.

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World by Timothy Morton (2013)
We are breathing uncanny air in this time of climate catastrophe. Morton’s idea of the ‘hyperobject’ describes the immanent loss that I can feel in my bones and skin but still fail to grasp, both massive and diffuse, a loss I both suffer and cause.

Incubation: A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Kapil (2006)
A road story and a monster story, this book about moving and belonging between places and categories, can itself not be classified.

Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes, tr. Richard Howard (2012)
When you are grieving, people will give you books about grief. This is the only one I managed to take in at all. Maybe in part because the portions are very small (in grief I have felt like an invalid capable of only the smallest sips), but also because its preoccupation is with what has been lost, not with healing from loss.


Photo of Rebecca Tamás credit Sophie Davidson

Fitzcarraldo Editions has hired Rachael Allen to launch a poetry list in 2025. Allen, who
previously started the poetry list at Granta, where she published authors such as Will Harris
and Sylvia Legris, and who publishes her own poetry with Faber & Faber, will run the new
list alongside editor and production manager Joely Day.

Their first acquisitions include works by Matthew Rice, Sasha Debevec-McKenney, Rebecca
Tamás, Oluwaseun Olayiwola and Pulitzer Prize-winner Diane Seuss. Fitzcarraldo Editions’
poetry list will feature four to six books per year, and will also include poetry in translation.
Art director Ray O’Meara is designing a new series for the list, to be unveiled later this year.

Diane Seuss’s 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning frank: sonnets and her new collection Modern
will debut in the UK as part of the launch list. In frank, Seuss moves nimbly across
thought and time, poetry and punk, AIDS and addiction, and Christ and motherhood, showing
us what we can do, what we can do without, and what we offer to one another when we have
nothing left to spare. Modern Poetry is a personal journey through poetic inheritance, moving
from Keats and Hopkins through to Stevens and Plath. A scholarly upending of literary
histories, it is self-deprecating, witty and formally groundbreaking. Diane Seuss is the author
of six books of poetry. For frank: sonnets, she also won the National Book Critics Circle
Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Voelcker Prize. She was a 2020
Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2021 she received the John Updike Award from the American
Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Michigan. UK & Commonwealth excluding
Canada rights to both collections were acquired from Katie Dublinski at Graywolf Press.

Oluwaseun Olayiwola’s Strange Beach is a sensual and sensitive collection bridging
transatlantic cultures and foregrounding the semantics and somatics of love. Oluwaseun
Olayiwola is a Nigerian-American dancer, choreographer, poet, and critic based in London.
His poems have been published in the Guardian, Poetry Review and Granta. UK &
Commonwealth exc. Canada rights were acquired from Kirsty McLachlan at Morgan Green
Creatives. Strange Beach will also be published by Mensah Demary at Soft Skull in the US in

Matthew Rice’s Plastic is a book-length poem exploring the life of the industrial worker-
turned-poet, set during a single twelve-hour night shift in an injection moulding factory in
Northern Ireland. Matthew Rice is from Belfast. His first book, The Last Weather
 (Summer Palace Press, 2021) was highly commended in the Forward Prize for Best
First Collection. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s
University, Belfast. World rights were acquired from Rice, with North American rights sold
to Mensah Demary at Soft Skull.

POEMS by American poet Sasha Debevec-McKenney is a subversive collection that skewers
poetic precedent on precarity, race and pop-culture with comedy, craft, softness and sincerity.
Sasha Debevec-McKenney is currently a 2023-2025 Poetry Fellow at Emory University. Her
poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Review of Books, The Yale Review,
Granta, Peach Mag, and elsewhere. UK & Commonwealth exc. Canada rights were acquired
from Katie Cacouris at the Wylie Agency.

Rebecca Tamás’s second collection contains three sequences, including a series of poems on
Joan of Arc, and a rewriting of the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King through an ecological
lens. Rebecca Tamás is the author of WITCH (Penned in the Margins) and Strangers (Makina
Books), which was longlisted for the Folio Prize. Rebecca’s writing has appeared in the
Financial Times, Guardian, i, the London Review of Books and Granta. World rights were
acquired from Emma Paterson at Aitken Alexander.
Of joining Fitzcarraldo Editions, Rachael Allen said: ‘I am hugely excited to be making space
for poetry with a list that will publish essential work, at a publisher I have adored and
admired since their beginning. These first poets we are publishing define the form, in
different ways, and are all expansive and generous in their thinking and approach. We will
continue to publish in this way, and the list will be defined by its authors, with ambitious,
innovative and progressive poetry.’
On co-editing the poetry list, Joely Day added: ‘It’s long been a dream of mine to expand the
Fitzcarraldo Editions list to include poetry. I couldn’t be happier to be co-editing the list with
Rachael, whose work at Granta I so admired and whose own poetry I return to often.’

Publisher Jacques Testard said: ‘Rachael Allen is one of the leading poets of her generation
and has been one of the most important publishers of poetry in Britain in the last decade
through her work with Clinic and Granta. I’d always thought that in order to be a serious
publishing house we needed a poetry list, and I’m very excited to see what she and Joely will
be publishing in the coming years.’

The launch of the Fitzcarraldo Editions poetry list is funded by a donation from the T. S. Eliot
Foundation, which recently became a minority shareholder in the publishing house via its
commercial arm, Set Copyrights Limited. Clare Reihill, a trustee of the Foundation, has taken
up a seat on Fitzcarraldo Editions’ board as a non-executive director.

Fitz Carraldo Editions