Gigi Fenster, author of The Intentions Book and her new memoir, Feverish – who will be doing an author talk at the Holocaust Centre on Wednesday 27th June at 2pm, was kind enough to answer our author interview questions. Have you ever heard crime novels described as sherbet? No? Read on…
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I have just started reading a book by my sister, Rahla Xenopoulos, called Season of Glass. I’m reading a proof copy, on my computer and am, despite the less than perfect reading conditions, utterly engrossed. The book takes its title from a poem by Yoko Ono, where the season of glass is the ‘season that never passes’. Rahla’s book is an epic tale of reincarnation and rebirth. Of seasons that never pass. But for all its epic-ness, it is also an account of how human urges remain the same, how human emotions play out, whatever the era.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
Jon McGregor must be on the list. I love his refusal to let words just lie on the page – he has words jumping about and behaving in uncharacteristic ways. But it’s not all fancy footwork. Rather, the characters and stories are so engrossing that one loses sight of the experimental form used to portray them.
Javier Marias is also high on the list. His ability to recreate fiction so it somehow presents as fact, so that we are constantly needing to remind ourselves that we are actually reading a novel. Like Sebald, he messes with the boundaries between non-fiction and the novel in a way that I find most satisfying.
Grace Paley always comes to mind: I love the way she uses minute domestic details. I love the stripped down, clean, cutting writing. I love how she manages, in very few, very simple words, to say all that there is to be said. Also, reading her work makes me feel like I’m sitting in on conversations between my grandmother and her sisters.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead. This was a recommendation from a Unity Books employee for which I am most grateful. Anderson is a brilliant writer who portrays complex philosophical challenges and historic tragedies in a readable, accessible manner – but without losing any of the complexity or softening any of the horror. Actually, M.T. Anderson might go on the list of favourite writers. And what a range of topics he tackles.
The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine. I’ve been reading this book since Christmas, and will probably still be reading it next Christmas. It is that big. And dense. And challenging. And demanding of concentration. I’ve been reading it with a pencil so I can underline passages – like studying a book for university. It is worth every minute.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin: A friend gave this to me and I’m going to move onto it next. Because, well, I have fever on the brain at present.
Various cheap crime novels that pass over the tongue like sherbet – sweet and sizzling for a moment, then pop and gone and completely forgotten.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
Matilda. Or Madeline. Or The Parent Trap (I cried as much in that movie as I did when I read Kastner’s Lottie and Lisa as a child). When I thought about this question, it was all children’s books that came to mind. My daughter suggested this might be because they are plot driven. I think she has a point.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Oh dear, I don’t re-read books. Although – I did read Wuthering Heights many times – but that was for study purposes and because it featured in my book.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
I think it would have to be Madeline. As a child I was always in awe of her ability to say, ‘pooh pooh’. Her refusal to be afraid of anything. Her ability to stand up to power – ‘Lord Cucuface Beware’
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Proust looms. Has loomed since the holiday my mother read him and my father kept telling us to keep quiet because ‘your mother’s reading Proust’. But I think maybe I have given up on reading Proust. All that looming has made him feel scary. My mother says I must get over it. She says his work is rewarding and engrossing. I hesitate.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Vivian Gornick because she is smart as can be and funny.
Denise Mina because her female character is fabulous. Also, I imagine a dry, Scottish humour.
Caitlin Moran because she is feminist and funny.
I notice these are all women. And funny. Because that’s what you want at a dinner.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
Potluck. They must bring their own food. Especially Gornick. I imagine she’s a great cook.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
Yikes – shelved? Organised?
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
At the moment I have this quote by Philip Roth on my desktop: ‘Sometimes it is really interesting to pretend to be someone you are.’ I don’t know where he said it. I got it from an article on Appelfeld (another great writer who messes with the boundaries between autobiography and fiction).
Photo credit to Grant Maiden Photography