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1. The title for each chapter in the book seems so appropriately interwoven with each section of the novel, I was curious as to whether you thought about the individual chapters before writing the book, and whether you had these titles in mind from the start, for example ‘killing the frog by degrees’
I knew approximately what would happen in each chapter, but the titles emerged as I went along. (Well, except for “killing the frog by degrees,” as it happens. I’ve been dying to use that phrase ever since someone first told me about it.)
2. What are the best and worst things about being a bestselling author?
The best is the thought that people I’ve never met might come to know my characters and perhaps even develop an affection for them. The worst is that when strangers walk up to me and start talking about my books, I always worry I’m disappointing them. I don’t speak the least bit the way I write.
3. The novel seemed to switch between the various narrative points of view, when reading it my sympathy always lied with the character we saw events unravel through. Was your intention for the reader to see all the various points of view and thus sympathise with characters equally?
Yes, and I am so pleased to hear that you did sympathise. My worry was that readers would dismiss the marriage as a “good person/bad person” situation—one character in the right, one in the wrong—and so I tried very hard to show both sides.
4. Can you reveal anything about what you are working on at the moment?
I am in the early stages of a novel about a long-term friendship between two Baltimore families, one American and one Iranian-American.
5. I read a review which suggested this novel is more pessimistic and darker than your previous novels, would you agree with this? If so is there a reason for this shift in mood?
I don’t see it as a shift, really. (DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT, for instance, was extremely dark.) It has seemed to me all along that life is essentially sad but also funny and hopeful, in various surprising ways.
6. Do you think that Pauline and Michael were to blame for Lindy’s disappearance?
I think Lindy’s disappearance was just one of those baffling, unaccountable heartbreaks that can happen in even the happiest of families. Who knows why? Of course the Antons would guiltily review their own particular shortcomings—but so would any other parents, I suspect.
7. At the end of each chapter there is a jump in time before the beginning of the next, what was your aim in doing this? Is it more difficult to write a novel which spans over a long period of time?
I thought of the book as a sort of connect-the-dots project; I felt I could trust my readers to understand what must have happened between chapters. It was difficult, yes, but also enormous fun. I liked not having to plod doggedly from 1950 to 1951 to 1952 and so forth, and I particularly enjoyed imagining the ’40s.
8. What would you most like your readers to get out of this novel?
I always hope that readers will feel they are actually living, for a while, the lives I am describing. For me, that has been my greatest joy in reading, and I would love to pass that joy on to other people.
9. Towards the end of the novel Pauline describes her theory about dreaming of undiscovered rooms in the house, I have that dream all the time but wasn’t aware it was so commonplace! Was this based upon a dream that you yourself have?
Yes, I have had that dream, and I know so many others who have had it, always with one of the two reactions that Pauline describes. I really have no idea what those reactions signify, although it’s fun to speculate.
10. The reader is made aware of Pauline’s death through George’s conversation with Lindy, why did you decide, after following Pauline so closely in the preceding chapters to inform the reader of her demise in such an indirect way?
I wanted her death to announce itself as death so often does in real life—unexpectedly, when we were all looking in the other direction.
11. Our reading group have read all of your books and loved every one! Do you have any recommendations of other books we should add to our list?
I’ve just read the most wonderful novel, several years old now, about a man living all his life alone in a small town alongside a river: JAYBER CROW, by Wendell Berry. The central character’s firm roots in one beloved place sent me back to another book I’ve admired for years—G.B. Edwards’s THE BOOK OF EBENEZER LePAGE, about a man’s long life on the isle of Guernsey.
12. Do your own experiences ever influence your work? If so how did they impact upon your writing of The Amateur Marriage?
I don’t ever put my own experiences into my books, because my books are my alternate, dream lives, and I want them to be completely different from my real life.
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