Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 10, 2017

Author event: Michelle de Kretser at Beaumaris Books

I’m just home from a most enjoyable author event organised by Beaumaris Books…

Michelle de Kretser was guest of honour, and the event was held not at the bookshop but at a café/function venue called Ginger Fox on the South Concourse.  The admission price included not only a copy of De Kretser’s new novel The Life to Come but also a two-course meal, designed, we were told, to complement the food references in the novel!  The arrangement of tables meant that people who came by themselves as I did, could easily enjoy conversation with others so it was all very congenial.

It was interesting to hear about the genesis of the book.  When still a newcomer to living in Sydney, De Kretser was out exploring with her dog when she came across an intriguing house near Cooks River.  She was actually still writing Questions of Travel at the time, but the memory of the house percolated and eventually became the house in the novel.   When she revisited the house recently, she surprised herself by discovering that the house was actually quite nondescript – which shows the power of the novelist’s imagination, eh?

Another aspect of the novel that was unexpected was that when she began writing, she thought that the book would be about George, the university lecturer in Part 1.  But as she wrote she found that Pippa was more interesting and less predictable, so she became the common thread who appears in all five of the sections of the novel.  I have heard authors say this before – that characters take on a life of their own and don’t always behave the way they were expected to…

De Kretser talked at some length about the Canadian author Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013.  She said that she read Munro’s short stories before she herself became a writer, and enjoyed the way Munro depicted the interior lives of girls and women.  But as a writer, she is fascinated by what Munro does with the structure of her stories.  In short stories of 7000-8000 words, she brings her characters alive often by depicting the same character at three different ages, with the narrative told by different points-of-view.  This allows for depth and layering because readers fill in the gaps themselves.  (And this is how Pippa is presented in The Life to Come: one part of the story is mostly about her, but other characters give their impressions of her in other parts of the novel too).

As I said in my review of The Life to Come,  De Kretser expects her readers to pay attention, and at this event she explained that she is interested in the collision of individual lives with great events, referencing her parents’ experience in being caught up in the end of the British Empire in Sri Lanka and the Ceylonese diaspora.  For me, this is what makes her books so interesting: they’re about people and relationships, but they’re never in a vacuum – world events are always on stage somewhere in the novel.

Something else I liked about this event was that it took place where it did.  Most author events are in the inner city, starting at 6 or 6.30pm so with peak hour traffic or crowded trains they are a pain to get to.  Authors who are willing to put in the time to meet their readers in the suburbs are a rare breed.   If tonight’s event was anything to go by, a warm reception can be guaranteed, and sales of the book were very brisk indeed!

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Thanks Lisa. I’ve got my eye on this book.

  2. Sounds like a lovely event

    • They have them regularly, but of course not always with authors I’m so keen on. I could tell from eavesdropping that for some of the locals it’s like a book group that they come to regularly, and they talk about whatever they’ve been reading over the supper while waiting for the main event to start.

  3. Sounds like a lovely event. Years ago the ANU used to run literary lunches pretty well across the road from my workplace. I loved the combination of a meal with other booklovers, and an author talk. The most memorable were Elizabeth Jolley and David Malouf. They stopped those lunches, done in conjunction with The Canberra Times, and I’ve been sad ever since!

    • Oh, Malouf and Jolley, what a treat!
      Yet here we are in Melbourne, supposed to be a city of literature and we don’t have anything like that!
      I have to say that the Wheeler Centre has turned out to be a major disappointment in this respect, if you’re actually interested in *literature*. No end of events with a political slant, but there’s hardly ever anything with LitFic authors, and they stopped running an event called Debut Mondays where four debut authors could spruik their books over supper in The Moat which is the WC’s café. I used to go to these to recover from staff meetings on Mondays, and I bought some beaut books!

      • Yes, I subscribe to the Wheeler Centre. Don’t check every email, but I certainly take your point. I guess they are appealing to a wide range of interests but there’s not enough for yours and mine!!

        NLA here has a decent range of events – but again I’d love MORE literary fiction authors – and it’s pretty easy for me to get to, but life is so busy. I only realise how busy I am when I find something I want to go to and discover a clash!! I’m really sorry about the De Kretser one.

        • Yes, I read their newsletter every time it comes out and I can never find anything I want to do to.

  4. I missed her when she came here. Too much on. So glad you wrote about it. Heard an interview on ABC radio. The book sounds very interesting.

    • I’m sure it’s exhausting for authors to go on tour, but it’s a way of showing respect to their readers who are loyal and buy every book they write. I’m not talking about newbies where there’s no budget for author tours, but well established authors.
      As an opera lover, it has always annoyed me that Australians support the great opera singers of the world by buying their recordings, but if they do deign to visit us, they only perform in some god-awful venue like the tennis centre where they can have a massive i.e. lucrative audience, rather than actually sing in an opera. It becomes a social be-seen-to-be-there event, not a musical event. The only exception to this is Kiri Te Kanawa who has actually performed in operas for us here in Melbourne, and it was magical.
      (And yes, of course, she’s a Kiwi, so she probably combined it with a visit home, but still, it was a proper opera, not just a ‘greatest hits’ concert).

  5. Agreed!


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