Their Library: The Divine Comedy

The always-entertaining Neil Hannon on the contents of his bookshelf...

Neil Hannon has always been an explicitly literate songwriter.

A true lover of words, he even named his much-loved project The Divine Comedy after Dante's leviathan work of Renaissance poetry.

New album 'Office Politics' lands on June 7th, and it's a delight, with Neil Hannon further stretching his wings while remaining unarguably, unavoidably the work of The Divine Comedy.

With in-store appearances and tour dates still to come, the Irish songwriter is currently rifling through his bookshelves to find something worth reading on those long tour bus trips.

Clash caught up with the Divine Comedy head honcho for our regular exploration of literary fascinations, Their Library…

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What is your favourite book and why?

A Room With A View – E.M.Forster.

The writing is effortlessly beautiful, the characterisation witty and wise, the story is life affirming yet grounded in reality, and the settings are drop dead gorgeous.

What other authors do you like?

Ford Maddox Ford, Hermann Hesse, Charles Dickens, Yuval Noah Harari, Howard Jacobson, Graham Greene, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Holland, PG Wodehouse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jonathan Coe, Alan Bennett…

What draws you to certain books?

In terms of fiction I am drawn to authors who try to marry honesty and depth with humour and maybe even beauty. While in other genres I simply search for things I didn't know.

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?

Not really, though in my early 20s I read the short novel Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau. He is much more widely known as a film maker and artist but this book is so good. I remember being whirled along in a giddy trance by it's energy and weirdness.

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?

It's a bit of a chicken and egg type scenario. The books you like inform your ideas and writing certainly. Yet one is naturally drawn towards certain writing because it chimes with your own ideas and personality. Let's just say it all adds up to making you who you are and how you tell stories.

What are you reading at the moment?

Europe: A History by Norman Davies. I can't read fiction when I'm in the middle of a mad promo run. History I can dip in and out of very happily.

What is the first book you remember reading as a child?

Does Asterix count? My favourite was Asterix And Cleopatra – such a pretty nose… Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories were probably my first proper books. I wince at them now but they got me through some tough times as a kid.

Did you make good use of your library card when you were younger?

No. I don't think I even had one. When I began really getting into proper writing as a teen I wanted to buy everything. I revered them too much to let anyone else finger them!

Do you read book reviews?

The occasional one in the Guardian, yes. But I prefer to use my powers of instinct in a good book shop.

Would you ever re-read the same book?

Sometimes if I need comfort reading I'll dig out some Forster or Fitzgerald.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book?

I just so wanted to be George Emerson in my early 20s; waiting patiently for my Lucy Honeychurch whilst sighing and pondering the eternal 'why'!

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?

I generally have a history book on the go as well as a fictional effort. But first you have to stave off that modern urge to look at your computer or your phone (nasty horrid things).

Is there an author or poet you would like to collaborate with?

I think the time is right for the musical theatre adaptation of Jonathan Coe's What A Carve Up! Don't you, Mr Coe?

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'Office Politics' will be released on June 7th. Catch The Divine Comedy at the following in-store shows:

5 Kingston Upon Thames Banquet Records at Pryzm
8 Manchester HMV (acoustic)
10 Perth Assai Records at Inchyra Arts Club (acoustic)
12 Dublin Tower Records (acoustic)

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