Yesterday, I wrote an item for Shelf Awareness about the launch of the Goodreads Book Club, which will feature Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I spoke to Egan for the piece, and it includes some reflections on her own involvement with book clubs as both an author and a reader, but I’d also spoken with her about the books she’s been reading lately, including Jessica Hagedorn’s Toxicology, The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, and Emma Donoghue’s Room. “I thought it was spectacular, really, deeply unsettling,” she said of the Donoghue. “I felt one of those seismic shifts inside me reading it, which is rare for me.”
“For a long time before that, I was actually reading nineteenth-century novels,” Egan added. “I reread Anna Karenina, David Copperfield, and Bleak House in the last few months… One thing that I’m really interested in is the way that the nineteenth century has come to be regarded as this bastion of convention—when people mention the conventional novel, they’re often alluding to the nineteenth century—and yet, those books aren’t conventional at all. They were very loose and flexible and they had lots of things that I think would almost be regarded as experimental now. I’m kind of curious about that, and I definitely want to read more, but there’s a lot of recent stuff I want to catch up on, so I’m going to do that first.”
11 May 2011 | interviews |
“Japan is perhaps the most important country of my life,” Amélie Nothomb said, sitting in a sidewalk café shortly before the opening ceremonies of the PEN World Voices Festival last week. She was born in Japan (her parents were Belgian diplomats) and lived there until she was five, but those early experiences stayed with her as the family moved to China, the United States, and on to several other nations: “I kept saying that I was Japanese, that one day I would go back to my country.” In 1989, at the age of twenty-one, she got her chance. “Two years later, I escaped after a professional catastrophe and a love disaster,” she continued; she wrote about her work experience in an autobiographical novel called Fear and Trembling published in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2007 that she published the book which was eventually translated into English as Tokyo Fiancée.
“I think it’s much more difficult to write about happiness than to write about any other subject,” Nothomb explained, “so I needed almost twenty years to be able to talk about it.” It took her far less time to digest the humiliation she endured at her job, where she’d eventually been assigned a position as a washroom attendant, than the good times she had with Rinri, a young man who originally hired her as a private French tutor. The scenes from their relationship in Tokyo Fiancée don’t always seem happy—his parents can be insufferably condescending; he invites all his friends to meet her, then vanishes into the kitchen and makes her fend for herself conversationally—and finally she realizes that he’s serious about wanting to marry her and she’s just as serious about not wanting to marry him. Still, she puts off telling him no because, as she writes, “to refuse would have meant breaking up, something I did not want.” She does enjoy his company, after all, and it’s only when the pressure to marry becomes too stifling that she flees to her sister’s house in Belgium.
4 May 2011 | interviews |