Every novel needs a good collapse

Okay, I know I said I was taking a break, but sometimes I can’t help myself and Barbara Kingsolver is certainly worth writing – and thinking – about.  She was in the Pavillion in Dun Laoghaire on Monday 19th July, in conversation with our own Claire Kilroy as part of the DLR Library Voices series. She read from her latest novel Lacuna, which has won the Orange Prize.  It was a fantastic event. The Pavillion was jammed to the rafters – but why are there always so many more women than men at these things?

Barbara Kingsolver is a terrific writer, but she’s also instantly likable in person, warm and funny and direct.  She reads well.  She took Claire Kilroy’s excellent questions seriously and answered them at length – you know how some speakers say what they want to say, no matter what they’re asked?  We hear it all the time on the news.  “Will I resign?  I’m so glad you asked me that question, Seán.  I do believe it’ll rain this afternoon,” and so on.  There was none of that here.  We got serious, considered answers to serious, intelligent questions.

Here’s a sample of some of the things she had to say about writing:

  • The novel as a form is about the things we don’t know, the things that history leaves out
  • Every novel needs a good collapse
  • She likes to start with a big idea – what she wants her readers to think about –then work back from there, to why it would matter
  • Her characters begin as abstractions, existing to serve her purpose, but by the time she’s finished the novel she cares about them, worries about how the world will treat them
  • Literature is an art that’s only half finished when the writer finishes their task – it is completed by the reader
  • On celebrity and success: She doesn’t think beyond the next book, concentrates on the sentences
  • On writers and politics: it’s not such a great idea for novelists to run things – they’d be likely to complicate everything, but:
  • Literary fiction is by its nature political, being about empathy  and understanding.  It’s the opposite of racism.  The opposite of war

You can listen to her talking to Sean Rocks on Arena at:


In other news, the Ómós reading for One in Four will be broadcast over two shows on RTE Radio One, 7-8pm on July 31st and August 7th.

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