Today’s 2, 2, and 2 guest is S.A. Jones, whom I know as Serje, and the new book being featured is her second novel, Isabelle of the Moon and Stars (UWA Publishing).
I have been among Serje’s fans since reading her first novel, Red Dress Walking (Allen & Unwin, 2008), and I’ve also enjoyed her essays and reviews in publications like The Guardian, The Age, The Drum, Crikey, Overland and Kill Your Darlings. I had the privilege of reading an impressive early draft of Isabelle of the Moon and Stars and can’t wait to read it in its final form, clothed as it is in one of the most evocative covers I’ve seen for a long time (congratulations to designer Anna Maley-Fadgyas, who also produced the cover of Elemental).
A few interesting facts about the always-interesting Serje:
- she was born in England and raised on a remote island off the West Australian coast
- she holds a PhD in History from The University of Western Australia
- she now lives and works in Melbourne as an executive in the heavy transport industry
- she was named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence in 2013
- she is, and I quote, ‘mad-keen on reading, theology, history, trucks and chardonnay’
- she knows more about Wuthering Heights than anyone I know
And now, to Isabelle of the Moon and Stars. Here is the book blurb:
Ever since ‘the incident’ two years ago, Isabelle has been stuck in a dead-end job, trying desperately to keep it together and ward off ‘The Black Place’.
Her best friend Evan is her safe place. They laugh at each other’s jokes, share the same interests and take the piss out of each other with the ruthless efficiency of long acquaintance. Sex isn’t an issue because Evan has made a bargain with God to keep it in his pants and Isabelle is still recovering from being deserted by her fiancé Karl. Then just as Evan reconsiders his vow, Isabelle contrives a bizarre passion for her boss, Jack.
Everything implodes one suffocatingly hot Australia Day. Escaping the resulting chaos, Isabelle flees to Prague where she must finally confront her fears.
A provocative and funny novel about the dark places, both personal and historical, from one of Australia’s brightest new voices.
Over to Serje…
2 things that inspired my book
Isabelle of the Moon and Stars was born out of a very specific set of circumstances. My marriage had collapsed, I had no fixed address and I was in poor health. Writing was a way of maintaining focus and connecting my nascent ‘new’ self with the old one.
I was also inspired by a dissatisfaction with the way mental illness is often portrayed in popular culture. I wanted to see if it was possible to write about anxiety and depression in a way that was realistic, while conforming to the genre demands of the novel. It’s challenging because the reality of the illness—the repetition, the hyper vigilance, the self-absorption—is oppositional to the light and shade and change that make for good narrative.
2 places connected with the book
As a child, my heroine Isabelle developed a compulsive fascination with the city of Prague. I based her obsession on my own childhood experience of Russophilia. I went through a phase where I read only Russian literature, devoured everything I could on Russian history and collected hammer and sickle memorabilia. In fact, my childhood identification with all things Russian is to thank or blame for my nickname. A girlfriend started calling me ‘Serge’ in my early teens, figuring it was a Russian name, and it stuck so comprehensively that I simply adapted the spelling to the Finnish girl’s name ‘Serje’.
I went to Prague in 2008 to conduct my research. Below is a photo of me sitting in front of the memorial to the victims of communism. The memorial consists of a series of humanoid figures that progressively put on flesh and detail as they endure and evolve. That was pretty much how I felt at the time too.
One of my favourite associations with this book is the research trip I took to the Czech Republic and Germany in 2008. My sister accompanied me and it was a formative experience for both of us. It confirmed that old cliché that opportunity is the close cousin of crisis.
I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to some dark enjoyment at having invented my own management strategy for the book. As anyone who has spent time in the workforce knows, initiatives for better performance or efficiency or alignment are often as facile as they are absurd. I really hope my strategy—called P3—takes off.
Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is in bookshops now.
You can read more at:
Interview with William Yeoman, The West Australian