Nicky Pellegrino and Stacy Gregg continue their Book Bubble podcast series with an interview with Elizabeth Knox.
Wellington’s Elizabeth Knox describes herself as a modestly-sized totara in this country’s literary landscape and her most recent best-selling novel, an arcane thriller called The Absolute Book, has been snapped up by publishers in the US and the UK. Yet to the surprise of many it was left off the shortlist of our national book awards, the Ockhams.
The Absolute Book is an epic quest story, written as Knox was coming through a period of immense grief and loss – this included the brother of her husband, publisher Fergus Barrowman, being mown down and killed by a drunk driver – and while there are parallels with her personal life in the story, it is also immensely hopeful.
Knox tends to work on several books at once – at the moment she’s busy with a memoir, a collection of essays and a novel for young adults – but still suffers the same insecurities as ever when she sits down to write.
An extract from The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)
A few days later Taryn was lying in a field, looking up at the sky, her view interrupted only by the occasional zigging black dot of a foraging bee. She was trying to remember when she’d last lain in long grass. She recalled stretching out on a bench at the hunting camp in the Rockies and gazing up at the forest canopy, its tessellated pattern of shy crowns. But when had she last let anything rob her of peripheral vision?
In her first year away from home Taryn was casual about locking the door of her dorm room in her university hall of residence. Then Bea was killed. After that Taryn would get up several times during the night to check she had locked her door. She didn’t feel safe.
She dropped out and went to live with her mother, and before she’d even unpacked she bought a deadbolt for her bedroom door. For years she wouldn’t lie down until she felt secure, either safe or in charge, as she had with Alan. She never went any lonely place alone. She wouldn’t walk along the street wearing earbuds, and if a man approached her, to ask for directions or—more often—spare change, she’d give him as wide a berth as she could without provoking hostility. She never surrendered her situational awareness, didn’t sit on a park bench, close her eyes, tip her head back, and bask. She kept her eyes open and always wore the bear bells of an unwelcoming stare, a look that said, Stay well clear of me.
Taryn stretched her arms up over her head. Her turf bed rustled and released more grassy perfume. She was full to the brim with a sense of contentment, an animal happiness that wasn’t normal for her yet, but which she now felt she had a right to.
BookBubble is made with the support of Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa