Name: Elizabeth McKenzie
Book: The Portable Veblen
What’s it about?
Meet Veblen: a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an experienced cheerer-upper (mainly of her narcissistic, hypochondriac, controlling mother), an amateur translator of Norwegian, and a firm believer in the distinct possibility that the plucky grey squirrel following her around can understand more than it lets on.
You’re well known to booklovers already for your brilliant history writing – what made you want to take the leap into fiction?
The great thing about writing fiction is that you can just go for it – you don’t need to worry about the libel lawyers or the expectations of good taste demanded by a serious work of history. After my stroke I didn’t want to spend my time hanging around in libraries, but I did want to spend my time reflecting on some of what I have learned in over 30 years reporting on politics. Head of State is the result.
In Head of State, Britain is on the verge of an in/out EU referendum. When you began writing the novel, did you have any idea how relevant this issue would become?
I thought that the idea of an in/out referendum would be impossible for British politicians to dodge for much longer. It has slightly surprised me that this issue has certainly been pushed to the front of current the news agenda by events taking place now inside the Conservative party and UKIP. There is going to be a referendum, it will come sooner or later, and many of the issues discussed in Head of State will arrive at the forefront at that time. I just hope for all our sakes that we’re not led by the same kind of characters you find in my book – but I may well be wrong! Read more…
The product of a stormy upbringing in an Irish Catholic enclave of New York City, Eileen craves stability. Coming of age in the early Sixties, she meets and marries a young scientist named Edmund Leary. While Eileen wants more for her family, Ed won’t give up teaching for a better-paid job. Inadvertently Eileen starts to climb her own career ladder in nursing. She pushes Ed into finding a new home, but it becomes clear that his resistance is part of a deeply troubling psychological shift.
In this masterful debut, Matthew Thomas paints a sprawling, profoundly sympathetic portrait of a family coping with slow-burning tragedy. We Are Not Ourselves is a grand testament to our deepest hopes and most human frailties. Read more…