Bookmark with…Madeleine Gray

From the books which made her laugh to the ones that made her cry, Australian novelist Madeleine Gray publishes her much-raved about debut novel, Green Dot. Fellow authors Elizabeth Day, Pandora Sykes and Louise O’Neill are hooked…

First book you fell in love with?

If we’re going way back, it’s got to be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My Dad read me all the books in the Narnia series when I was a kid, and they just totally transported me to other worlds, other realms – they transformed my bedroom into a magical kingdom and showed me what fiction could do.

A book that changed your life?

It’s got to be How to be Both by Ali Smith. I was studying Arts/Law at the time I first read it, and after reading it I knew I couldn’t be a lawyer – I just wanted to dedicate my life to reading and thinking about books like this. It’s a truly wonderful novel – so smart, so joyous with language, so invested in the power of art. I dropped Law and ended up studying English Literature for the next eight years. Thank you, Ali!

A book that makes you laugh?

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. Lockwood’s sense of humour is so brash but so clever too – her sentences wrench open the unspoken bits of life that are the most terrible and often also the most side-splittingly funny. Her depictions of her Dad in this book, who is a gun-toting, unhinged Catholic Priest, just make me truly guffaw. She has such an original, strange mind.

A book that makes you cry?

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. Any novel with a complicated mother-daughter relationship is like catnip for me, but this one just gets me every time, because Levy nails the toxicity that can exist between a self-centred mother and a self-centred daughter, but also the intensity of the bond that cannot be shaken. There’s a sustained metaphor about the medusa jellyfish in this novel that perfectly encapsulates the sense of being frozen and poisoned by someone seeing you as you really are. The final pages have me howling tears every time.

A book that left you thinking about it for days?

Luster by Raven Leilani. This is Leilani’s debut and it is astounding to me that this is the case. Every line is so tight and she captures the tension of sardonic millennial existential angst grinding up against the desperate desire of wanting to be known and loved. It’s also hilarious underrated and more people should read it, so I’ll go with that. It’s a babushka doll of a novel, all about how the perceptions we have of people are so often wildly inaccurate, as are our own visions of how others see us. This book switches narrators again and again, each time revealing that what the previous narrator depicted is so deeply at odds with someone else’s truth. It’s a true page-turner with acute insight into the human condition.

Your favourite character from a book?

I think the character I’ve found hardest to get out of my head is Alannah, the protagonist of Irish novelist Niamh Campbell’s debut novel, This Happy. She is so deeply clever and yet so deeply insecure, and her internal monologue is just the most beautiful, clear, rolling prose. She’s able to analyse all her Machiavellian motivations in relationships without us ever hating her. She reminds me very much of another of my favourite protagonists, Rosamund Stacey, from Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone.

A book you listened to on Audible and loved?

I have to be honest here and admit that I have literally never listened to a book on Audible! I know, I’m behind the times, but I can’t give up the physicality of the book as object, of cradling a story in your hands. Apologies. I’m that person whose luggage on an international trip is always overweight because it’s almost entirely comprised of books.

Having read and loved so many books what is it like now to have your debut published?

It’s wild, obviously! While I wrote Green Dot I was also working in a bookshop as a bookseller, so I have seen firsthand how many amazing novels do not get the limelight they deserve. The fact that mine is getting press and so many readers is an absolute stroke of  luck, and I am riding the wave like one would a fever dream.

Fellow authors Louise O’Neill, Pandora Sykes and Elizabeth Day have all raved about your book. How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel very bloody happy! It’s a huge honour to be celebrated by authors I deeply admire, and it’s also so wonderful that the book is getting international attention, because oftentimes Australian books don’t break through to the international market, even if they’re fabulous. Like, British people are only just discovering the wonder that is Helen Garner, for example, and she’s a household name here. So I am amazed and thrilled for Green Dot.

As a writer and, as a critic, how do you feel about reviews and reviewers?!

When I write literary criticism I try very hard not to judge a book by whether I personally like it or empathise with its characters – I want to contextualise it within culture and look at how the author is doing what they do. I think criticism like this is extremely valuable and makes the literary world a lot richer. I am not a fan of criticism that reads like a press release or like a personal vendetta. I told myself that I wouldn’t read reviews of my book, but of course I do – so now I am of the very balanced belief that any bad review of my book is wrong and any positive review is correct.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray is published on 1 February by W&N in hardback, ebook and audio download, geni.us/GREENDOT


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