Lionel Shriver: L'obsession
For psychiatrists, obsession is a neurosis. For writers, obsession is their job.
Each novel takes me a couple of years. So when I conceive a new book, I also choose what will consume me for that period. One of the thrills of this occupation is serial infatuation—first and foremost, with a set of characters. A fiction writer is like one of those friends who’s intensely confiding and fascinated with your problems, wanting to go to the cinema every weekend, and then without warning drops you like a hot brick. I sometimes wonder whether my characters from earlier novels share their dismay with one another on my dusty study bookshelf: Remember Lionel Shriver? God, she used to make such a pest of herself, breathing down our necks. And so bossy, always ordering us around! Then, wham, never heard from the bitch again. Whatever happened to her? Fiction writers are flighty and faithless. They love you; they drop you for a whole new crowd.
But with every project, I’m also prone to embrace a nonfiction aspect. Sometimes that subject is worthy, weighty, and oppressive, like American health care. For So Much for That, I waded through a stack of deadly tomes about rising medical costs and health insurance—only to conclude my instincts were right: the only way to make this dreary stuff bearable was to embody it in a story. A story with lots of jokes.
Sometimes the subject of my fascination is depressing—or it would be for normal people—like school shootings. To write We Need to Talk About Kevin, I read hundreds of articles about self-pitying miscreants who murdered their classmates. Still, none of this journalism ever quite answered the question that we all ask about such atrocities: why? Only a novel could get inside these stories, open them up. After I’d read enough of them, accounts of real school shootings had started to seem all the same. But underneath that seeming uniformity was a unique character, and a very particular family gone wrong. Certainly the research for that novel got me down, and I’ve often been asked whether writing the book itself made me miserable. To the contrary—making up all that mayhem and malevolence, I had a wonderful time.
The subjects that consume me for years at a stretch aren’t always so serious. For Double Fault, I became still more in thrall to tennis, which has entranced me on an amateur level from childhood. For that book, I attended tournaments galore— Wimbledon, the US Open. I saw Andre Agassi play live three times. Even when grooving my own dodgy cross-court forehand, I could tell myself I was doing my work. For The Post-Birthday World, I delved deep into snooker. At last I could righteously put my feet up in my living room and watch the World Championship on the BBC for days on end: I was doing research.
I have been obsessed with the Northern Irish troubles; I have been obsessed with rock-and-roll drumming. I have been obsessed with demography, epidemiology, and anthropology; I have been obsessed with terrorism. I have been obsessed with a particular, boarded-up house in Raleigh, North Carolina. For my last novel, Big Brother, I was obsessed with fat.
The biggest sacrifice of serial infatuations, however, is that I use my enthusiasms up. I never watch tennis matches anymore, or snooker tournaments. Articles about school shootings induce spontaneous nausea. News about American health care is now a slog. These subjects have served their purpose; I have sucked them dry. We shall see whether my latest fascination, financial apocalypse, holds the slightest interest on the other side of my new novel. But then, it’s hard to imagine ever quite getting bored by the subject of money.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Lionel Shriver, "Lionel Shriver: L'obsession", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), septembre 2015. Consulté le 05/10/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/lionel-shriver-l-obsession