“I Start, You Finish.” Nita Prose on Letting the Reader Fill in the Blanks
In Conversation with Christopher Hermelin on So Many Damn Books
Nita Prose drops into the Damn Library to illuminate her runaway hit novel, winner of a Goodreads Choice Award, The Maid, and all the ways she used her past as an editor and her knowledge of the tropes of mystery writing reused to create it. Plus, she brings along Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair, because who can ever get enough Agatha Christie?
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What’d you buy?
Nita: The Hike by Lucy Clark
Christopher: Nothing Special by Nicole Flattery & Your Driver is Waiting by Priya Guns
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn • The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont • The Appeal by Janice Hallett • Agatha Christie’s Word Frequency linked to Alzheimer’s
Nita: The Whispers by Audrey Audrain
Christopher: Matilda (dir. Matthew Warchus, 2022)
From the episode:
Christopher: I’d love to hear about writing a mystery set now. It seems like a current hallmark of the genre is to just set things in the nineties or or even at the beginning of Internet times. But it felt like you were really deciding, “No, it’s basically now.”
Nita: I think everything about this novel is hyper real. I never tell you what time it is. I never tell you what city it is. There’s so much that I leave. I give you just the barest clues around, or contradictory clues, you know, and I let you decide where you think this is happening. So you know that that’s the sort of floating world that I wanted to invest in, where I start and I sort of create an outline of everything.
And then you as a reader, have to color the rest in, you know. So in terms of time, you’re right, there are few clues that suggest it’s now. There are cell phones. But in another way, there is a timeless, hyper real element to the Regency Grand Hotel and to Molly herself, to her grandmother, where, you know, they have a universality that might extend beyond another time or actually remind us of times gone past.
Christopher: Mm hmm. I love this idea of the “hyper real.” Are you going to stay in the hyper real? Is that where you want to keep writing?
Nita: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think sometimes what I write, my characters tend to be larger than life and in that way hyper real. There’s certainly something in me that resists, you know, filling in every lines, you know, closing every door. I want to do just enough and then let you, as a reader, complete everything. And for me, that’s part of the fun. I see this like the reader/author relationship truly is a partnership. I start, you finish. My book isn’t done until it gets read because I can’t finish it. That’s your job as a reader.
And so hyperreality works well that way because it allows you to bring your experiences, your knowledge, your wisdom to the fore, and really complete the picture, whether that’s a descriptive picture, a narrative picture, or a character picture. So I think, you know, in terms of how I see this, in some ways, this novel is more like a Wes Anderson film than a police procedural.
Christopher: Right. It’s Anderson. Not necessarily Scorsese.
Nita: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
Christopher: That speaks to me and to my personal aesthetics. That could be why I so found myself drawn to the book.