You weave the narrative beautifully between the joys and sorrows of her
time with Hal and her marriage to Nathan. Why did you choose to frame the story
One of the points I wanted to explore was about timing. When we make our choicesto marry, to have children, to change jobs, etc....has a direct bearing on how successful or not our lives will be. Rose knew she wanted children and, however intense and addictive her feelings for Hal, it was not likely to happen with Hal, who wanted different things. Reflecting on her history helps Rose to clarify the muddle and anguish left by the breakdown of her marriage, and also to suggest these ideas to the reader. Amplifying the same point, Nathan chooses to step back out of one cycle that is coming to an end, only to find he is back in the same place, and is now faced at fifty-something with a reduced income, a wife, and twins. More important, perhaps, he has deprived himself of a peace and freedom that he might have expected after the hurly-burly of raising one family.
Ianthe has always been completely unsupportive of Rose. To what degree do you think this influenced Rose in the choices she made?
Again, one of the points I thought would be interesting to write about was the connections and the differences among three generations of women: Ianthe, Rose, and Poppy. Ianthe is very much a woman from an older generation. She does support her daughter, but she also holds different views about forgiveness and about the traditional role of women and how they should conduct their lives. She would consider it part of her support, and duty, to speak her mind. To a certain extent, we all shrug off the nostrums and mind-set of the older generation. If Rose does just that with Ianthe, what is Poppy doing with Rose?
When Rose is told about the affair, she questions Nathan: "...is it because as we grow older, we grow less confident...and we need to reestablish ourselves all over again?" Do you feel this is the reason why most marriages fall apart?
Of course, becoming middle aged is not all plain sailingthere are disappointments and bitter griefs. Women mourn their changing looks and some feel that they have become invisible. Life is more complicated, less straightforward, and less easy to pin down than it appeared to be in the twenties and thirties. As a result, both sexes may, at times, feel a little daunted, which is what Rose is questioning. Here is where the courage and resilience of middle age can be so well deployed. It is probably true to say that in any long-term relationship a fault line will appear at some point as the individuals are bound to change, develop, and reorientate themselves. If the partnership is functioning, this will add richness and exhilaration. But if it is not, and the fracture is not dealt with and discussed, undoubtedly it must contribute to the breakdown of a relationship.
Mazarine, upon hearing the news that Nathan has left Rose, blithely comments to Rose, referring to the affair as a phase that will ultimately end, "Be practical and wise, it's our role in a crazy world." Could you elaborate on that statement?
As a Frenchwoman, Mazarine is reflecting a culture where affairs are seen in a slightly different light. But she is also expressing a view on sexuality and sexual behavior that she is considering within a larger contexta philosophy that comes from her worldly experience. She is urging Rose to view Nathan's straying as a blip and not as a finality. What she in effect is saying: marriages are tougher than affairs. These things happen. Ride through it.
Some critics have said that Mazarine is so vivid that she deserves her own book. Who is your favorite "minor" character?
I have to confess to having a great fondness for Mazarine. I love her practicality and her elegant theories of life. But I also find Alice very intriguinga young woman determined on her career who is thrown hard against a brick wall of inconvenient emotion. In her way, Alice is quite brave.
Did you write this story to help liberate middle-aged women from those husbands who wish to start new lives with younger women? What inspired the book's amazing title?
I wrote the book because I was interested in the stage of life where it is possible to look both back and forward, and it is a very interesting place to be. Sooner or later, we all get there and the rewards are that patience, observation, and experience yield more subtle and textured pleasures than the ardency and impatience of our younger years. That is the theme. The plot is about the "happily ever after": i.e., what can happen to us after we have settled down with our Prince Charming and it goes wronga situation which offers plenty of drama for the novelist. The title just arrived in my head. Bang. It stems from the Spanish proverb. "Living well is the best revenge."
The setting and character of your novels are very British yet the book has become a New York Times bestseller. Has it surprised you how much American audiences have embraced Revenge?
The response in the US has been fantastic and generous and I confess to being just a little surprised, but hugely delighted. Then again, the breakdown of a marriage is something that happens in many western culturesthus, in that sense, it is a universal predicament. I also feel that the slightly older woman had been ignored lately in fiction. Her voice should be heard, too!
Are you working on anything now?
The Good Wife (UK title), which takes a look at marriage. What is it? How does it work? Why does it last? Fanny has been married for twenty years to a politician, a position that requires her to look good but remain silent in public. But she is no fool and, after her daughter leaves home, she begins to question her choices...and her future.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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