Here are another five favourite stories:
1. Room – Emma Donoghue
This is the book that made me want to write The Last of Us. Jack's voice and the sense he makes of his constricted world is an amazing achievement. In Room he has so little to play and interact with that ordinary objects become Capital-letters important (Bed, Wall, Plant, Zigzag Knife), and the way he struggles to understand the reality of things on TV is heart-breaking. Survival here is about the hardest decisions, impossible decisions; then having to survive what comes after.
2. I am Legend – Richard Matheson
Matheson was already my hero for being the mind behind The Incredible Shrinking Man (whose final scene of our guy turning to dust on a windowsill haunted me as a kid and, later on, inspired some very bad teenage poetry). Robert Neville has to battle the vampires - alone. Actually what impressed me most about this book was how deeply Matheson had invested in the reality of his world - I never really believed in vampires until I read this. I am Legend is about survival, yes, but maybe even more about loneliness. Which leads me on to…
3. Night Work – Thomas Glavinic
One character. Alone. Jonas is a young Viennese man who wakes up one day to find everyone has gone. Not just his family or friends, or immediate neighbourhood: everyone. Glavinic's descriptions of empty cities are brutally convincing – so much so that you begin to fear who might be out there, hiding. As the book goes on it becomes clear that Jonas's survival is threatened not so much by a lack of water, or food, or shelter, or even sleep: but by loneliness. Is it a dream? Is it purgatory, heaven, or hell? A compelling nightmare of a book.
4. The Patrick Melrose novels – Edward St Aubyn
I get to cheat by including this book which contains all five Patrick Melrose novels (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, At last.) Survival here is about surviving childhood trauma: which is the subtext for everything Patrick does after – from his prowling for heroin in the Bronx, to his failures in marriage and relationships and family life – and we forgive him all because we saw what happened at the start, and so will root for him for ever. (David his father is one of the nastiest pieces of work in fiction.)
5. Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller
Peggy and her father James, hiding out in their forest retreat in die Hütte, are the last survivors of the end of the world. Except that they aren’t. Claire Fuller gives us some of the most icily brilliant descriptions of privation (physical, spiritual, temporal, and most crucially of all, parental) you’ll ever read. I love the way she drops bombshells mid sentence (check out lower down page 53) where other writers would drag it out. And from someone who really struggled to name his novel – what a great title. Survival of the hardest sort here, when memory fails and fantasy grows in its place, and you can't even be sure what it was you endured.
My novel The Last of us was published by The Borough Press in April 2016.