If you’ve been reading the Retreat West blog for a while, or been on a retreat with me, you’ll know that I am a big fan of Alison Moore’s work and especially loved her debut novel, The Lighthouse. Recently, I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of her latest novel, Death and the Seaside, which comes out with Salt Publishing on 1st August 2016, and then got to ask her some questions about it…
Alison, I found the whole novel to have a very surreal and dreamlike quality – is this dreamy heading into nightmarish atmosphere you’ve created a direct reflection of Bonnie’s state of mind?
Throughout the novel, there’s a question of what can be trusted, what is real: there’s a story within Bonnie’s story, which in a sense is a story within the ‘real’ story, but they’re both stories; there’s the question of what is real within these storyworlds; there are references to dreams, whose worlds can feel completely real while we’re in them, and in a sense dreams are real experiences. So there’s this rather blurred boundary between what is ‘real’ and what is not, and I think that’s where that surreal/dreamlike/nightmarish atmosphere comes from.
The stories that Bonnie starts but never finishes all seem to be about her about her but she doesn’t seem to notice this, or accept it when Sylvia points it out. Do you think subconsciously she was trying to write a life story that she would really want to have, which is why she didn’t know how to end them as she didn’t know what she wanted?
I think Bonnie’s stories, like her dreams, are a strange translation and exploration of experiences and possibilities, and the inclusion of autobiography in fiction can be a subconscious process – I know I’ve had moments where a piece of writing has been completed and even published before I’ve realised the connection between what I’ve written and something in my own life. Bonnie is so defensive about the parallels between herself and her protagonist that in fact I think this shows us how dangerously close she is to being this ‘fictional’ character.
For me, the strong themes of suggestibility, mind control and alienation also worked as a metaphor for what modern life in Britain is like. Is that something you intended?
I have drawn on aspects of the contemporary world with respect to influence, which is a key theme in the book and includes the influence of advertising etc, which is related to suggestibility and so on, and Bonnie is deliberately written to be particularly responsive to the various messages with which she is bombarded.
Just like Futh and Lewis before her, Bonnie is a character that has no real friends to speak of. What draws you to write about people like this?
What interests me is the dynamic between this quiet personality type – someone who is pootling through life – and what I call a disrupter, e.g. Sydney in He Wants, and Sylvia in Death and the Seaside. The story lies in the crossing of their paths.
Many thanks for coming along, Alison, and to you and Salt for the advance copy of Death and the Seaside. It is a great read.