The bestselling writer, whose novels include Brick Lane and Love Marriage, says: “When I was growing up, I always had my head in a book.”

Here, she shares five of her favourites

Vs Naipaul

This is the best tragi-comedy ever written. It’s also a sideways look at colonialism, race and religion. And the story of one man’s struggle to carve out, against the odds, his own place in the world. I first read it in my teens, and I still love it now.

Mary McCarthy

It’s set in New York in the 1930s, following a group of eight young women, all graduates from exclusive Vassar College. I’d so often heard about the book (published in the 1960s) as an absolute must-read, but I’d never got around to it until recently. It’s a book about love and sex and heartbreak, marriage and careers.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

They’re my comfort read – five volumes of sprawling family saga spanning from the 1930s to the 1950s. Howard is a sharp observer of human drama and psychology, and she writes about pain, loss and longing superbly well. Somehow – for me – this works like some kind of balm.

Natalia Ginzburg

I read it in one sitting, it was that engrossing. It’s a fictionalised memoir of childhood in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, and fighting fascism when Mussolini comes to power. It’s life-changingly good. It’s a lesson in how to live.

Chang-Rae Lee

It tells the story of a Japanese-American man’s love for a Korean ‘comfort girl’ during World War II when he was in the Japanese army stationed in Burma. Comfort girls were basically sex slaves, raped every day by numerous soldiers. It is a story that is simultaneously brutal and unbearably tender.