Thursday, 18 June 2015

Interview with Lily Iona MacKenzie

1. Who are your favourite magic realist authors and why?

I’m attracted to a wide range of magical realist styles, from Haruki Murakami, Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino, to Mikhail Bulgakov. But the Latin American authors first attracted me to this genre, and they’re the ones I frequently return to. I’ve read all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ work. So, too, with Chilean writer Roberto Bolano. Jorge Luis Borges is always a challenge. I’ve just discovered another Chilean writer, Alejando Zambra, who flirts with this style.  Carlos Fuentes. Mario Vargas Llosa.  Julio Cortázar How to stop! These writers aren’t afraid to wallow in unreality or to speculate on where the lines between realism and unrealism are drawn. If there is such a line, it’s constantly shifting, just as reality can’t be pinned down. Was that an ice cream cone I saw woman eating in a newspaper photo, or did it only have the appearance of a cone. Was it actually corn on the cob? It’s often difficult to pin down the difference between appearances and reality, which is why so many writers have focused on this theme whether they fit into the magical or realist vein.

2. What is your all-time favourite magic realist book?

Again, it’s difficult to pick just one favorite magical realist book because I’ve liked so many. One Hundred Years of Solitude still mesmerizes me. In that novel, Marquez not only portrays an important era in Colombia’s history, but he also creates a family that has mythic roots, and I think that’s one of the most successful aspects of this genre: while the quotidian is important, it doesn’t rule. There’s always a whiff of another layer to life. This happens in my currently favorite magical realist book, Andres Neuman’s Traveler of the Century. Where are we in Neuman’s world? We’re told it’s sometime in the 19th Century, somewhere between Saxony and Prussia, but in many respects the action could also could be happening today. It’s a philosophically and emotionally rich narrative that explores multiple layers of experience. 

3. Why do you write magic realism?

The shape shifting that often happens in such novels seems psychologically true to me. For example, in my soon-to-be published novel Fling!, when my grandmother’s ashes resurrect and she appears after being dead for 70 years, it couldn’t be true literally. Though most Christians would disagree, and perhaps those who believe in reincarnation, the dead don’t come back to life. However, the dead are constantly appearing in our dreams, in our thoughts, in our inherited behavior. So while the thing being described may not exist in our physical sense of reality, it does when it’s viewed as a metaphor. It’s as if people can return from the dead. I also like to write magical realism because it allows my imagination to explore images and ideas that aren’t confined to everyday life. While I love most everything about our commonplace world, I also have a strong sense that other realities exist simultaneously. This genre helps me to investigate that possibility.

4. Can you give us your definition of magic realism? 

I’ve probably already partially covered my definition in my previous responses, but I’ll try to embellish. My view of the world is pantheistic. Everything seems alive with what some people might call the divine, though I find that term too limiting. I think magic actually comes closer to what I mean in the sense that as children, we view the world as an enchanted place. In most developed countries, especially, we are taught to dismiss such beliefs and become more realistic as adults. I’ll give a personal example. I grew up in Calgary where the winters were very cold. One of the beauties of that weather, though, was that Jack Frost visited and left amazing designs on the windows. But when I was five, my Scottish schoolmaster grandpa told me there was no such thing as Jack Frost (or Santa Claus). Of course, I didn’t believe him. I still don’t! But I think magical realism retains elements of this enchantment with our world and those who write it are trying to recapture for their readers that dimension. It’s a way of viewing life through a different lens than what realism offers. Different rules exist, allowing the writer to break out of realism’s limitations.  

5. Tell us about your latest magic realist book?

With my Scottish background on my mother’s side, I grew up hearing her talk about the Scots having a sixth sense and was accustomed to the idea that surreal things can happen. She came out of a Celtic tradition where people believe there are certain times of year when the strict boundaries between the living and dead become less firm. The Celtic New Year, November 1, is one of those periods and is also known as All Soul’s Day, our American version being Halloween. I mention this because in my novel Fling!, to be published in July, 90 year-old Bubbles and her daughter Feather’s long-dead ancestors appear. Alternating narratives weave together Bubbles and Feather’s odyssey with their colorful ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics. In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Thank you, Lily, for a fascinating interview. 

You can find Lily's blog here:

No comments: