Sunday, April 19, 2009

Interview with Maud Newton

Many of your reviews have emphasized the brutality and deprivation of the characters’ lives, and rightly so, but what is even more extraordinary about The Book of Night Women, to me at least, is the tormented romance that drives the last third of the story. Two characters fall into a twisted and passionate affair that sometimes seems like love, but never really can be. The relationship is at least as gripping as what happens between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre but fundamentally doomed. Was it difficult to write?

Oh my god it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life. I remember calling friends shouting, “I just wrote a love scene! All they do is kiss!” to which they would respond, “. . . and are they then dismembered?” and I’d go, “No, after that they dance!” It was hard. I resisted it for as long as I could because I didn’t believe in it at first, and even when I did, I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Not until Irish novelist Colum McCann gave me permission by giving me the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten from a writer: Risk Sentimentality.

There’s a belief that sex is the hardest thing for a literary novelist but I disagree: love is. We’re so scared of descending into mush that I think we end up with a just-as-bad opposite, love stories devoid of any emotional quality. But love can work in so many ways without having to resort to that word. Someone once scared me by saying that love isn’t saying “I love you” but calling to say “did you eat?” (And then proceeded to ask me this for the next 6 months). My point being that, in this novel at least, relationships come not through words, but gestures like the overseer wanting to cuddle. Or rubbing his belly and hollering about her cooking, or teaching her how to dance or ride a horse — things reserved for white women.

Read the rest here: