2 March 2023

‘Emergency’: a reading list

Posted by Daisy Hildyard

Daisy Hildyard’s Emergency, shortlisted for this year’s Rathbones Folio Prize, is a pastoral novel for the age of climate catastrophe, dissolving the boundaries of human and animal, local and global. The Rathbones Folio Prize judges called it ‘a profoundly conceived novel that breaches our own myopia’. You can read an extract from the novel here, and below, Hildyard reflects on some of the novel’s inspirations and influences.


Leo Tolstoy, ‘Kholstomer’ and ‘Three Deaths’  (1886 and 1859)
Two short stories, one is the autobiography of a horse and the other witnesses the deaths of a noblewoman, a coachman and an ash tree. What I love about them is that they extend beyond human activity but they are also very calm and literal, they make me feel that my surroundings are rich and full of stories.


Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Friction (2004)
Tsing is an anthropologist who studies globalism. Friction never feels academic: she makes miniature worlds come into view by cross-hatching observations of people, money, plants, governance, animals, and showing how they determine one another as they move and interact. Tsing is a serious writer, years of looking and thinking have gone into her work, and what comes out – what’s offered to the reader – is a distinct way of seeing.


Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (1984)
In Levi’s autobiography each chapter is organized around an element of the periodic table. Levi was a chemist and he was sent to Auschwitz. In this singular and overwhelming book, his insight into the material world is projected onto his understanding of human cruelty and suffering.


Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think (2013)
Kohn, another anthropologist, draws on field work in the Amazonian rainforest, bringing together semiotics and ghosts, jaguars and philosophy, to cautiously argue an inspired thesis: that forests think. I think he’s right.


Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (1904)
A novel set in the silver mines of an imaginary country in South America. Nostromo is rooted in place but Conrad brings the globalized world which surrounds and shapes that place to life. It’s an adventurous, loose, beautiful and troubling book whose author struggles against, and is also corrupted by, the racism of his time and situation. I found Nostromo helpful for thinking about how colonialism and global capital come into human lives as a combined force, shaping what happens to a person and how she is able to respond.


Emergency by Daisy Hildyard (Fitzcarraldo Editions) is shortlisted for the 2023 Rathbones Folio Prize. The winner is announced on Monday 27 March at the British Library.

Read an extract from Emergency here.

Join Daisy Hildyard, alongside the Rathbones Folio Prize judges Ali Smith, Jackie Kay and Guy Gunaratne and a stellar line-up of other shortlistees, at an event at the British Library on Sunday 26 March. Find out more and book tickets here.

Books mentioned in this blog post