7 vragen aan… Carys Davies, schrijver van Clear

01 maart 2024
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Nu in onze boekhandels: Clear, de nieuwe roman van de Britse schrijfster Carys Davies, die deze zomer onze bovenbuurvrouw wordt als Writer in Residence in het Letterenfondsappartement. We vroegen haar zeven vragen uit te kiezen om te beantwoorden. Lees over Muriel Spark, Anne Carson, Tove Jansson, Tarjei Vesaas, L.M. Montgomery en Meindert DeJong – en over Clear.

What books are on your night stand? 

Muriel Spark’s The Mandelbaum Gate and Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.

I belong to a zoom book club with some friends in the US which we started at the beginning of the pandemic and have kept going once a month ever since. We only read dead authors and the last book we read was Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Most of us had read it before, when we were teenagers, and we all had the same experience: when we read it then, we thought of Miss Brodie as a rather wonderful, inspiring maverick, and we were all a little in love with her. So it was a shock to discover, on re-reading the book, that she is actually manipulative, deluded, and a bit of a fascist. It’s a brilliant and subtle book, and on the strength of it I’ve now started The Mandelbaum Gate, which is set in Jerusalem just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which for obvious reasons is a fascinating read in our present moment.

My daughter gave me the Anne Carson book, knowing I’m a huge fan. Her poetry is so precise and surprising, and I always learn so much from her – I can’t wait to read it.



What book comforts you? 

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. When my mother died this was the only book I could read – the stories of a grandmother and her granddaughter pottering about on a tiny Finnish island, talking to each other about everyday things as if their summer will go on forever. It’s so sweet and funny and deceptively simple with such powerful feelings under the surface of their days. 

What book would you like to have written yourself? 

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas. I don’t think I’ve ever been drawn so completely into the consciousness of another human being as I was into the heart and mind of Vesaas’ unforgettable Mattis. Every line is so true, Mattis’s interior life is so singular and intense, and when the unbearable ending comes it feels as shocking as it is inevitable. A true masterpiece.

Whatbook turned you intoa reader?

When I was very young I didn’t read much. My younger brother was a huge reader, obsessed with Tolkien, and our mum was always trying to get me to read The Lord of the Rings but I had no interest in hobbits and elves and dwarves. Then one day - I must have been 10 or 11 - she gave  me a copy of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. For the first time, I experienced what it’s like to step out of your own world into another and believe in it completely. I wanted to be Anne, to think her thoughts and live her life. I read all the other Anne books one after the other and when they were over I was absolutely bereft. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped chasing that feeling of wanting to live inside a book and never wanting it to end. 

Someone lendsyou a time machine. Which writer do you visit? 

Charlotte Brontë. Her life was so lonely and tragic – all those dead siblings! – and even when she was a successful author, her life in the north of England set her apart from the fashionable world of literary London. I lived for a long time in the north too, and I would love to visit her in Yorkshire. We could head up onto the moors and go striding about in the wind and the rain, and feel sure we’d find a lot to talk about.

Who is your favourite Dutch author? 

Can I have Meindert DeJong? I know he left the Netherlands when he was just a boy, but The Wheel on the School and The House of Sixty Fathers were two of my absolute favourite books when I was young. They are so idiosyncratic, so full of charm and peril, and the little fishing village in Friesland where The Wheel on the School is set has stayed with me my whole life. I read both books to my own children when they were small and they were as captivated as I’d been, though when I tried to read The House of Sixty Fathers (based on DeJong’s own experiences during the Sino-Japanese war) to my youngest daughter, she refused to let me go on beyond the part where the boy, Tien Pao, and the family pig, Glory of the Republic, are swept away down the river. It was just too sad and she couldn’t bear it.

Could you pinpoint the moment you decided to start writing this book? 

It’s so rare that I can answer ‘yes’ to this question with my books, but Clear was different. I know exactly when it began, even if I didn’t know for years what the story would be. Late one winter’s afternoon back in 2012, in the beautiful old reading room at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where I live, I stumbled across a hundred-year-old dictionary in a lost language I’d never heard of: Norn, which was once spoken on the islands of Orkney and Shetland. I was completely enchanted. It was if I’d found a key into a vanished life I couldn’t have entered in any other way.

Over the years I went back to dictionary again and again and I began to imagine a place even more remote than the most northerly of the Shetland Islands, and in due course I could see a man, living there alone, and I knew he was probably the last native speaker of this extinct language. Everything went from there.

7 vragen aan… Carys Davies, schrijver van Clear

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