Maggie (Mary) Gee Biography
Maggie Gee Comments:
My chief twentieth-century models are probably Woolf, Nabokov, and Beckett. But I was also raised on the great nineteenth-century writers like Dickens and Thackeray. And I loved stories: I read and re-read my mother's copy of Hans Christian Andersen. I wanted to write stories myself; and I always felt that the difficulty of much twentieth-century "serious" writing must be a problem, not a virtue. If I was difficult, it was despite myself. On the one hand I wanted to write new things, and tell the absolute truth according to my perception of it, which often seems to demand new ways of writing: on the other hand, I've become increasingly aware of the importance of an audience.
My first published novel, Dying, In Other Words, is probably the most difficult technically. It is a bizarre kind of thriller. Moira's body is found on the pavement one morning. The police assume it is suicide; yet the milkman who found the body turns out to be a mass-murderer, far too many of Moira's surviving acquaintances start to die in their turn, and increasingly often the sound of typing can be heard in Moira's "empty" room … is she still alive, and writing the story? The novel is a circle; and when it returns inevitably to the point of Moira's death, we find it was neither suicide nor murder, after all….
The Burning Book is a variation on the family saga. Two English working families, the Ships and the Lambs, shop-keepers and railway-workers, try to live their own lives, interrupted by two world wars and the threat of a third. One theme of the book is the stupidity of nuclear weapons, which endanger all stories and the continuity embodied in families. There are flashbacks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The family itself isn't perfect; violence and frustration inside it counterpoint violence and frustration outside. On a small scale, though, humans can learn to do better. The central couple, Henry and Lorna, finally learn to love each other by the last chapter of the book, when they go for a winter picnic in an earthly Eden, Kew Gardens. By a stupid irony, the public world of war-like headlines breaks in on their "happy ending." Light Years is an inverted romance, set in 1984. The lovers, Lottie and Harold, split up on the first page of the novel, and are apart through the year (and 52 chapters) that the book lasts, though perhaps things change in the very last chapter …. The longer they are separated, the more they love each other. Meanwhile, the earth turns full circle, and the seasons, the stars, and the planets play their part in the very formal structure of this book. It is my "easiest" book I think—short chapters, short sections within the chapters, with much "lighter" looking pages: all of which was intended to help express a rather rare commodity in twentieth-century literature—happiness.
Retrospectively, I realized that each of these three books was an attempt to write a new version of a popular genre—thriller, family saga, romance—to appeal to basic emotions, and use basic narrative drives, but to re-work the genre in my own way, and to surprise my readers. All I am conscious of at the time of writing, though, is a desire to show the truth, in ways I never can in speech, and a desire to make structures as beautiful as I can.
(1995) Grace is an anti-nuclear thriller, whose form and themes both depend on ideas of splitting and one-ness—splitting of the atom, of the male and female sides of ourselves, of families, of society.
Where Are the Snows is a panoramic global love-story, the story of Christopher and Alexandria, a bourgeois couple who give up family and roots for love. They are both archetypal tourists—thinking they can buy the planet and use it as a backdrop for their personal drama—and embodiments of the "transcendental homelessness" that Georg Lukacs saw as central to the novel form. I was writing about a fantasy of eternal youth and romance that runs aground on the rocks of bodily aging, and about our human need for something wider than a couple bond; about the loneliness and greed of contemporary western society; about our selfish desire to have everything for ourselves, within our own individual life-spans, and a consequent contempt for the future and the past, most obviously shown in my central couple's abandonment of Christopher's teenage children, and Alexandra "forgetting" to have children of her own—until it is too late.
Lost Children is a British book, like Grace. It is about the process of dealing with loss—of a teenage daughter, Zoe, who runs away from home, in the first instance. But the bereaved mother, Alma, is driven back to her own lost childhood as she tries to understand what has happened; is it the working-through of an older pattern of unhappiness that has driven her daughter away in 1993? The 1990s London of the novel is full of poverty and literal lost, homeless children, a darker city than the already troubled London of Light Years, a decade earlier. The personal question the book asks is one that particularly concerns the middle-aged, like Alma—how can we understand our parents? How can we understand and forgive ourselves as parents?
The Keeper of the Gate (work in progress) is about the difficult transition between centuries, and that between life and death. One of London's last Park Keepers has a stroke and faces death. In his absence in the hospital, a racial murder takes place in a park which for a hundred years has never known a major crime. Meanwhile, the middle-class children of this working-class man jostle for position around his bed and try to understand their parents, themselves, and the frightening future. The sub-text of this book is the loss of public space, the breakdown of public order, the lost notion of truly shared society—and how black and white can live together.
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