So this is the idea. There are two selves here.
They dialogue with each other.
This is kind of like in your book. Green Girl. The notion of the two selves. The ambivalent and sometimes cruel mother-narrator who observes and interrogates Ruth, the American girl adrift in London, stuck, circling.
Is the narrator actually the mother of Ruth, the character?
That is not an interesting question.
Also, from your past life as a journalist, you should know never to ask a question that could be answered with “yes” or “no.”
Right. Right. I forgot. It’s been a while since I interviewed anyone.
I will indulge you anyway. I will tell you why in fact this is not an interesting question. It is not an interesting question because Green Girl is a novel. Green Girl is not an attempt at realism. It is aware of itself being a novel, and the narrator is aware that she is the author, and Ruth is aware of herself as a character.
What do you mean that Ruth is aware of herself as a character?
I mean that Ruth as a young girl, as an ingénue, as the titular green girl, is always aware of being a character in a fiction, others’ fiction, in the fiction of her life. She lives in a referential world where she is always compared—to current starlets, to movie stars, and models herself on a young Catherine Deneuve or Jean Seberg. She and her friend Agnes are obsessed with film, especially screwball comedies and the French New Wave. They are so aware of being actresses. They are not their own subjects yet.
And what does this have to do with the narrator?
The narrator is her former self, in a way. At the beginning she gives birth to her. She watches over her. But she is not literally the mother. She is kind of like a god figure. I modeled this somewhat on Clarice Lispector’s male author-narrator in The Hour of the Star, who creates and imagines a horrorshow ending for his mystic-girl Macabea. Instead of Coca-Cola and Marilyn Monroe my Ruth has Julie Christie in Darling and Green and Blacks chocolate and a penchant for fucking strangers.
So, is the narrator you? Or are you Ruth? Or both? How much is the novel drawn from your real life?
Again, a brutally uninteresting question.
Seriously, though, where does this get us in a reading of the novel? Besides some sort of tabloid-like tidbit? God, remember when you would ask people this? Ask them to dig into the autobiographical roots of a work of fiction? I wish I could tell my former self what I know now. That the act of creation is a peculiar one. It is promiscuous in what it draws from. In writing Green Girl I gleefully rampaged popular culture, the trials and tribulations of celebutantes like Lindsey or Britney Spears circa head shaving, the language of perfume ads and fashion magazines (Ruth for a time works as a perfume spritzer of a celebrity perfume called Desire at a department store she only refers to as Horrids), works of literature and philosophy, the Bible, New Wave films, the confessions of medieval mystics, memories of girls I had once known, including myself. In some ways the novel is a meditation on youth, on my former self. But it is not strictly autobiographical. I am and have never been a wan blonde Deneuvian girl. I have never sprayed perfume in a department store, but I have been a wage slave. I have also worked the customer service of life that is being a young woman in her twenties, passive and eager to please. But this is no roman à clef so to speak. It isn’t even a strict Bildungsroman. Ruth is not coming of age, as an artist or as an empowered subject. There are glimmers, glimpses of possibility.
I really liked how cinematic the book was. These little windows, shots, scenes instead of chapters. The camera going for a close-up, sometimes zooming out.
Oh. Thank you.
I really saw myself a lot in the character, the situations you put her in. I felt an intense feeling of recognition reading it, which I think can be such a pleasure of reading. That feeling of recognition. Not familiarity—but some sort of truth of experience arrived at or uncovered. Especially surprising to see that appear in a work of fiction. An excavation of the internal crisises of the twentysomething girl. An existential novel about shopping and make-up.
I was really interested in portraying a certain level of feminine experience often dismissed as “chick lit.” Virginia Woolf who wrote A Room of One’s Own for the “young girls, who appear so frightfully depressed.” I am interested in the whys of that, interested in still linking that to the contemporary. What is it like to be stuck somehow as a character in literature, not the subject? I explore this in an upcoming book-length essay entitled Heroines, revolving around my obsession with the women writers and female characters of modernism, that Semiotext(e) is publishing next fall.
You’re really interested in this question of the girl.
Yes. Good. Finally. Thank you for getting around to the ideas of the novel. Perhaps you can now inquire into the epigraph structure, which is me attempting an Arcades Project of the ingénue? Also interrogating the figure of the flaneuse, the girl walking alone in public, who Walter Benjamin in his 19th century work of on the Parisian arcades basically ignores in his meditation on the mystical figure of the flaneur. How in the epigraphs you wanted to pay homage to the novels and films that inspired the work, its ancestors, from the novels of Jean Rhys to Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7? Or perhaps a consideration of desire in the work, its connection to capitalism? But no everyone wants the juicy bits. That’s so easy. It’s too easy.
You’re being a bit cruel.
Yes. YES. That’s what I’m interested in. Literature that is cruel, that interrogates, that makes the reader uncomfortable at times. Exposing easy narratives. I did this in my first published novel, O Fallen Angel, that came out last year, my American triptych that was also my grotesque homage to Mrs. Dalloway.
Although I enjoyed the book, this all sounds a bit too postmodern and self-aware for my tastes.
Is that a question?
No, I’m directly quoting from an agent’s rejection letter.
I thought it sounded familiar.