Sunday, 1 July 2012

Author Interview: Anne Korkeakivi

Like Virginia Woolf did in Mrs. Dalloway, Anne Korkeakivi brilliantly weaves the complexities of an age into an act as deceptively simple as hosting a dinner party in An Unexpected Guest.

On a lovely spring day in Paris – post-9/11 and several months after the London Underground bombings — Clare Moorhouse, the Irish-American wife of a high-ranking British diplomat, is arranging an official dinner crucial to her husband’s career. As she shops for fresh stalks of asparagus and works out the menu and seating arrangements, her day is complicated by the abrupt arrival of her son from boarding school in England and a random encounter with a man on the street, who may be a suspected terrorist. More unnerving still is a recurring face in the crowd, one that belonged to another, darker era of her life. But it can’t be him…

An Unexpected Guest has been compared to Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs Dalloway because of the way both novels elegantly weave complex themes into simple settings.  Is this a style you were conscious of adopting? Are you a fan of Virginia Woolf's writing?
An Unexpected Guest is about a woman asked to put on an elegant last-minute dinner in Paris, a task - as a cool accomplished diplomat's wife - that should not be impossible for her. Except that everything starts to go wrong in the course of the day, all stemming back to this secret she's been harboring about a choice she made in her youth, thrown into relief against the climate of the mid-2000s when the novel takes place. This post-9/11 period of widespread unease, secrets, and revelations not only provides the backdrop for the story, it fundamentally informs the story.

I am, indeed, an admirer of Virginia Woolf's work. At some point early on, I recognized the similarity between what I wanted to do and the manner by which Woolf talks about the discomfort of the post-WWI generation in Mrs. Dalloway
An Unexpected Guest is set around one day in the life of a diplomat's wife and with a beautiful attention to the details of that day.  How much research went into the development of this character and how much was instinctual?

One of the first things I did in beginning work on An Unexpected Guest was to interview a life-long member of the foreign service on all questions of protocol, etc. I also spent hours reading about the lives and professional responsibilities of diplomats and their spouses, as well as conducting other types of pertinent research. But, above all, I asked myself: Who would be this person be? Who would have done what Clare Moorhouse did when she was twenty and would now be doing what she is doing at forty-five? I thought about Clare for over a year before writing the first chapter. By then, I knew her really well!
You've spent a great deal of time in France.  Do you think that it is important for writers of fiction to base their works around places they know?
I wouldn't want to presume as to what is right or isn't right for other authors. This may seem off the point, but John Fogerty, who wrote the all-time mega-hits "Proud Mary" and "Born on the Bayou," was from the San Francisco area and, apparently, had never even been to New Orleans! Numerous sci-fi books take place on Mars or in distant galaxies, and that seems to work for both those writers and their readers.

But, yes, I did live in eastern France for ten years and have spent a great deal of time in Paris, and this was with me every minute of writing An Unexpected Guest, as were every raindrop I've felt or slice of brown bread I've eaten in Dublin, Washington, DC, and the Boston area - other places that appear in the book. I loved walking along the Rue de Varenne, crossing the Seine, visiting the gardens of the Rodin Museum in my imagination as I wrote. I appeared to be sitting at a desk in front of a computer, but I was really miles away re-living springtime in Paris.

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