4thcoming: Elizabeth McKenzie, author of ‘The Portable Veblen’

• Jan 19, 2016 • Tags: , ,

Portable Veblen

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.

Meet her fiancé, Paul: the son of good hippies who were bad parents, a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. His recent work on a device to minimize battlefield trauma has led him dangerously close to the seductive Cloris Hutmacher, heiress to a pharmaceuticals empire, who is promising him fame and fortune through a shady-sounding deal with the Department of Defence.

What could possibly go wrong?

What others are saying:

‘Man oh man, do I love this book! Audacious, imaginative, and totally wonderful: The whole books zips and zings’ Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

‘Wildly brilliant. Razor-sharp, intimate, hilarious and profound. Every page is a delight’ Emma Jane Unsworth, author of Animals

The Portable Veblen is the squirreliest novel I ever read. I enjoyed it completely’ Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness

What she’s reading: Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban

What she’s listening to: The Dead Sailor Girls, Neil Finn

What she’s watching: The Americans

Favourite word(s): homunculus + pseudo

Favourite song: And Your Bird Can Sing

Your hero – literary or otherwise: Roger Federer

The book she wishes she’d written/The book that everyone should read: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Writing ritual: lots of coffee, straight backed wooden chair, back to the window, children at school

Best advice ever received: Look for what’s already here.

If she could change one thing about the world: Fewer heartless jerks.

Think of something beautiful: Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing festivals in Japan.

The most memorable sentence she’s ever read: One is from the Steegmuller translation of Madame Bovary: “Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”

If she wasn’t writing:  There have been serious secret yearnings for careers in private investigation, airline pilotry, and donkey ranching.

Who would play the main character in a film adaptation of The Portable Veblen? Honeysuckle Weeks? Ellen Page?

Best place to write? A small cluttered room at the top of the stairs.


The Portable Veblen is out on the 28th January.

Enjoyed this? You might like our author Q&As with Claire Lowdon and Katherine Heiny

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