The story appears on

Page B4

April 3, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Middle class anxieties in focus

NEW Zealand writer Emily Perkins paints disparate, vulnerable urban lives. A chance meeting with an old lover in a supermarket, and pursuing fame and fortune while working at McDonalds -- these are some of the modern vignettes in her first collection of published works in 2002.

With her 12 short stories titled "Not Her Real Name," Perkins was hailed as the fresh voice of a generation of self-absorbed, media-obsessed 20-somethings. Perkins was in Shanghai as part of the Shanghai International Literary Festival.

With her latest offering, "Novel About My Wife," Perkins' characters have grown up somewhat. They now tackle marriage and young parenthood, but still with plenty of neurosis and vulnerability.

The novel is about a young couple embarking on parenthood who becomes convinced they're being followed by a homeless man, while their home seems beset with vermin, smells and strange noises. Perkins turns her pen to exposing the anxieties of the middle classes.

Q: Why is there a strong sense of the city of London in this book?

A: London is almost a character in the book. I lived there for nearly 10 years and started the book there. It's a hard city to make your way in, it's very expensive, and you're just one of millions trying to do the same thing. The book was about a time in life when a couple was struggling to establish themselves so the city contributed to that. There's also a sense of menace in the city around every corner with the homeless man and teenage thugs in the book. Through that I was really interested in exploring middle class anxiety and all the comedy in it. It's a projected, irrational fear.

Q: Why does this kind of fear interest you?

A: Concentrating on an external fear can distract us from real threats within us. As the story progresses, Tom the protagonist doesn't notice what's going wrong in his own home and his contributions to the problems. Instead it all gets substituted for a nameless social menace, the homeless man.

Q: What was the inspiration for the book?

A: Part of it was the early stages of marriage. It's a very tender, vulnerable time with a lot of anxiety as well as lovely things. I wanted to explore all the tensions that go with it. Then there was also the core idea of a woman who had changed her life and her identity. The story revolves around the man being obsessed with his mysterious wife, trying to get at her core. She had left her country Australia to completely reinvent herself in another culture.

We all know people who have completely reinvented themselves, and it's fascinating. I'm interested in whether a person can sustain that change, or at some point the past breaks through.

Q: How does the book fit in your body of work?

A: This book is more tightly structured and plotted. Others are more character-driven explorations. But all come from my interest in human relationships and covering difficult things with humor. My next book will be very different, an episodic look at a woman's life from her girlhood to being an old woman. It will be about sensations, particularly desire and loss.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend