Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

How DO people think? In conversation with Evie Christie, Author of The Bourgeois Empire

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How DO people think? In conversation with Evie Christie, Author of The Bourgeois Empire

Evie Christie is currently working on an adaptation of Racine's Andromache for Graham McLaren and Necessary Angel Theatre Company which will premier at Luminato on 2011. Her first book, Gutted, was published in 2006; her novel, The Bourgeois Empire came out in Fall 2010. It is funny, shocking, endearing and un-put-downable. Her work can be found in such journals and anthologies as Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets, IV Lounge Nights Anthology and Approaches to Poetry: The Pre-Poem Moment.

AH: How was the process different, writing a novel, as opposed to a collection of poems? You have also adapted/ updated Racine's Andromaque; is interdisciplinarity a natural/ the most comfortable state for you? Do you think your next book will be poetry, prose, something else? Did you work on poetry while writing The Bourgeois Empire? There are certainly any number of poetic moments in TBE, one that stood out for me was how a word like fondly is echoed by fondling.

EC: I never set out to write anything other than poetry, it was really a circumstantial thing, my daughter was a baby and something about the schedule, the lack of sleep lent itself to prose and made it difficult to write poetry. I began working on TBE as it came to me, it was a relentless, pressing commitment I had in the middle of the night. The play, Andromache, was not in my plans. I was asked by Guy de Carteret at Necessary Angel to talk to this Scottish director Graham McLaren about whether or not I could adapt this play. It worked out well but the initial part was frightening and I had a lot to learn. I worked for Graham, under his direction, it’s his play. He is a genius. Did I answer that? Interdisciplinary is natural in that, like anything else, an aspect of chance and circumstance made it so. I always work on poetry and continued to do so while I wrote the novella, I have thought of those word associations, those echoes and shadows as some remnant of the way in which I read, I used to think it was a kind of dyslexia that made me confuse words and phrases, to see two meaning where there is one. It’s likely the part of me that is slow and also Freudian suggestiveness that makes for poetic slips. My next book will probably be prose because I can't seem to feel done with my poetry manuscript. I'm working on a something called Man: A Work of Fiction about a guy named Man.

AH: Could you describe what your work in progress is about?

EC: Man is about a writer named Manfred Glad who has blown his advances and now works for a yuppie 'arts and culture' magazine. He's paid to write those artsy travel articles and as such finds himself in Germany where he sees what he thinks is his father, the back of his father in a crowd shot in a daily paper. The book is about Man searching for his dead father and loving his wife who is ever occupied and absent. I hope it's a funny and nice story and also a little sad like any good life should be.

AH: Early on, Jules states that he does not love and has never loved his wife. However, at the time of the story, they have been together for over ten years. The reliability of his recollection becomes questionable in this and other instances. To what extent would you describe him as an unreliable narrator? Could you talk a bit about how his unreliability heightens the drama of the story (if you agree to the description)?

EC: Yeah, he is very unreliable and that makes him come off as both very human and very surreally human for me. I’m not sure how to get to how I feel about this in any straightforward manner. I guess I think this question of love is a true question, I think Jules has never been in love if love means what he wants it to mean and has very much been in love if it means what most of the world wants it to mean. His unreliability is part of his negotiation of social terms, what it means to be a person, a man, etc. If it does heighten the drama I think it is in that tension between the real and the confrontation with the real which is pretty bad for most people and best avoided if what I’ve learned so far from Zizek is to be believed.

AH: Jules is quite confident in his opinions of people, for instance "most girls really are the same" as well as his scathing estimations of his family friends, and family members for that matter. However, he is quite insecure in his self-estimation. For instance, he has a lot of anxiety about being described as overweight. Could you talk about this contradiction in Jules and how these types of contradictions make him a more believable character?

EC: I am not sure anymore about how people think, the things they say to themselves. When I wrote Jules his character was forcefully apparent but I also thought, ‘this is how people think, this is what people say’ (this is how I think). I learned later that many people don’t recognize themselves as monsters, they either don’t think this way or they can’t acknowledge this and still be a good person. Jules is very real to me but maybe he is not real to other people.

AH: Most of the chapters can be summarized by a major plot moment. For instance: Nadine uses the money for a macrobiotic retreat rather than a tummy tuck; or Jules is caught masturbating by his wife and several attendees of a party being thrown at his home. How did the chapter work as a unit for you in editing and shaping the book?

EC: The chapters may have to do with the way I wrote, in the few hours before morning and possibly the way memory works (for me). Jules is remembering and simultaneously inventing a life. When we do this every event revolves around us and creates us, every trauma traumatizes us the most and every lust-fueled moment is some kind of true love other people don’t experience. The chapters worked as units of measurements in a life, they look whole because Jules has remembered them as whole. This is a man heavily involved with his mirror stage, this idea of wholeness protects his from fragmentation, the break down of the body, death.

AH: Most of the reviews I read of The Bourgeois Empire mentioned Lolita. In fact Nabokov is mentioned on the back-page copy. I thought Jules to be rather like a Bret Easton Ellis character, myself, more-so than Humbert Humbert. To what extent did you find the Lolita comparison useful?

EC: I have no idea, I still have not read Lolita. Do comparisons help to sell books or get reviews? I don’t know! I’m sure there are people who see this comparison and say, who the fuck does she think she is being compared with Nabokov! (Now I’m imagining a world where people read my books and become outraged!). It’s the old/young sex thing. There are millions of stories about life and sex and death and love and this is something I know something about. I don’t know about the stock market or angling or the life of a film grip so I couldn’t use any of those great backdrops.

AH: From time to time fourth wall is broken in The Bourgeois Empire, for instance, the reader is referred to in several instances. What factors were involved in deciding to break fourth wall and how is it particularly suited to Jules?

EC: In part we have a guy with a wonderfully huge ego, he assumes his reader must be there even if they are not. I just realized now that’s kind of what every writer is doing.

AH: While Jules does things that are, shall we say, unsavoury, I never hated him. What was your experience of writing him? Did you ever throw the manuscript across the room in exasperation, disgust, disappointment?

EC: No, no I love Jules and I’m not the dramatic type. I don’t throw stuff. I’m sure there are things Jules should not have done but I was never disgusted with him. We’re all very weird and perverse and we all want a bit of joy in this life.

AH: What are you reading these days? What would be your "desert island" books?

EC: I am reading Jules Lewis’ Waiting for Ricky Tantrum and Jacob Wren’s Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. My Desert Island books... DeLillo’s White Noise and Bronte’s Wuthering Heights... High Windows by Larkin (anything by Larkin), Moortown by Hughes... There’s so much poetry I would miss on the desert island but I’m assuming there are all kinds of other activities there to keep busy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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