The Story of my Book: Amanda Lohrey on Reading Madame Bovary
Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey guest blogs for Readings to tell us the story behind her new short story collection - Reading Madame Bovary.
For years I didn’t have much interest in publishing my short stories. Most literary magazines and anthologies ask for stories of three to four thousand words but I like a long story that is a kind of mini-novel or condensed novella. In Reading Madame Bovary, for example, the first story, ‘Primates’ is fifteen thousand words. It maps the world of an ordinary working woman in her late thirties who has the usual problems but who is nevertheless happy. It can be difficult to write about everyday contentment and surprisingly – for me – this story has been a favorite with readers to date, perhaps because it’s funny.
All of the stories in this collection are about the way we live now. Just a phrase in a newspaper report or a few lines of overheard dialogue in a café will set me off. Take the notion of ‘anger management’, almost a neo-liberal word-capsule for our current managerial culture. The story ‘Ground Zero’ features an IT executive having a mid-life crisis who starts to behave erratically until his wife insists he find a way to deal with his anger. This leads him to learn to meditate, which leads in turn to a state of mind that is the opposite of managerialism (unintended consequences are a wonderful thing).
The relationship between mind, body and spirit is a common strand through all the Reading Madame Bovary stories. A woman needs surgery and has a humiliating experience as a public patient in a rundown hospital but is restored by the healing power of music when she listens to the Sydney Piano Competition. In ‘John Lennon’s Gardener’ a man and a woman revisit a valley where they used to be part of a commune and where they recall a lost dream of utopia. In some stories I pick up on the political themes of my early novels, especially in the title story, ‘Reading Madame Bovary’ which is also my feminist riposte to Flaubert.
As I’ve grown older I’ve become a more impatient reader and this has affected my writing. I’m now more interested in the short story as a form. I think: if you can do it in ten thousand words, why take fifty? It’s a challenge. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t but at the very least I work on developing a story where the reader wants to know what happens next. That’s another thing about being an older writer – you go back to the basics, you want to recapture the simple reading pleasure of childhood, the hypnotic spell of it. If someone sits up later than they planned because they want to finish a story of mine then I’m happy.