‘Luckenbooth is a love letter to Edinburgh.’
By Jenni Fagan
Published by William Heinemann
The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?
First memory of a book would probably be reading fairy tales and taking it really seriously, I didn’t want to be the girl who had toads fall from her mouth (rather than pearls) because she said horrible things about people, I knew if I didn’t help an old lady at the well then I’d grow a scaly tail (I am elaborating) and much, much later when I discovered Baba Yaga and her house on chicken legs that turns in circles and sits to rest and it all made perfect sense to me.
The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book Luckenbooth. What did you want to explore in writing it?
Luckenbooth is a love letter to Edinburgh. I moved here when I was three years old and it’s a city of extremes, dark and light, wealth and poverty, mercurial, moody, pretty, exasperating, it’s a big village with iconic aspirations and the history is always on show in our architecture and pubs and lots of other things, I wanted to explore the unseen, the strange, occult, brilliant, unnerving, the guttural howl and institutional malaise, all kinds of things. The novel travels through nine decades of different characters lives in an Edinburgh tenement but their stories are all tied together by a curse, placed on Luckenbooth, when the devil’s daughter moved in to the building in 1910. Jessie MacRae reappears all the way through in one way or another and we finally find out the buildings oldest secret right at the end.
The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?
I’m not sure any one book has informed how I see myself, there have been books that gave me a real ‘ah’, moment. The Color Purple by Alice Walker is about a young girl growing into a woman, in the American South in between wars. Celie is a young black girl born into poverty and her book takes the form of letters to God, and later her sister. Her life really called to me, her voicelessness and the journey she took all throughout her life was so inspiring, I read it first when I was a teenager and it meant a lot to me.
The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?
I liked reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak to my wee boy years ago, also The Hobbit, The Gruffalo’s Child was pretty good too. I am bonded by a love of certain stories to anyone who also has an affinity with them, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (among others), Breece D’J Pancake’s Trilobites, lots of Scottish female writers I discovered when I was younger, Laura Hird, A.L. Kennedy, Ali Smith, Sandie Craigie, this could go on endlessly actually.
The book as . . . object. What is your favourite beautiful book?
My favourite beautiful book is a very elaborate hardback edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s really pretty. I am a sucker for a good looking book. I read a lot of religious texts and books over the years and sometimes I revisit them, this one looks great on any book shelf though.
The book as . . . entertainment. What is your favourite rattling good read?
I would struggle to pin down one single book that is a ‘rattling’ good read, I’ll choose Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison for a book that hooks you in on the first line and returns you back to the world a day or so later, a much better person for it. Bone is such an amazing protagonist and I adore Dorothy Allison, I think she is one of America’s greatest living writers.
The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?
This is hard to pin down to one book but I’ll choose The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswaany. I read it when I was staying in a no stars pension in Downtown Cairo for a wee while, it tells the stories that are unseen and it made my time in Egypt so much richer for reading it.
The book as. . .education. What is your favourite book that made you look at the world differently?
A book that made me look at the world differently is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I return to it often. The story seems perfectly told. Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as an ‘ungezeifer,’ we don’t have a translation for the original German word but it means some kind of monstrous vermin. He has tiny wriggly legs and a big shell for a body and he can no longer speak in a way that humans understand, he just screeches. It is the story of how the individual no longer exists if they are not serving the structures that surround them, family, workplace, government, firstly financially but secondly by not being ‘other,’ or a burden in any kind of a way. I love this book.
The book as. . .technology. What has been your favourite reading experience off the page?
I do not read off the page. I have never even held a kindle. However, I love seeing flashes of poetry out in the world like Tracy Emin’s neon signs, or more recently I thought the projection of Kayus Bankole’s A Sugar For Your Tea, projected onto City Chambers in Edinburgh. The piece explored Scotland’s role in the slave trade and was so beautifully written, powerful and humane, it was a piece that greatly impressed me.
The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?
The book as the future, I am looking forward to reading a few things next, Helen McClory has a novel Bitterhall coming out in 2021, also Salena Godden has a novel out in January Mrs Death Misses Death, also Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josie Giles, a science fiction verse novel written in Orcadian, they are all on my list!
Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan is published by William Heinemann, priced £16.99.