by Joanna Kavenna
by Joanna Kavenna
Rosa Lane is a dynamic journalist in her thirties, already the picture of London achievement.
Her handsome boyfriend is something in politics and her other friends are confident, prosperous and ambitious. But one afternoon soon after the death of her mother, staring at her computer screen at work, she fails to see the point, walks out of her job - and begins her long fall from modern grace.
Within days, this smart, educated woman is dependent on the patience and charity of her friends. She soon finds that most of them - especially her best friend - are far less supportive than she had imagined. What's more, she simply cannot understand their beliefs and desires anymore.
What happens next is comic and unbearable, as Rosa tries to find work, to wade through the great literature that she has never read (and never will), to appease her bank manager and to feel the excitement of a hopeless affair. When she visits old friends in the Lakes she descends into a pit of benevolent, fecund domesticity. Meanwhile, her ex and his unctuous lover announce their marriage.
Joanna Kavenna on Inglorious
> What sparked Inglorious?
I wanted to take one ordinary person -– a woman called Rosa Lane – and send her on a kind of mock-heroic quest for meaning, for a way to live happily and freely in the modern world. I wanted to write about how hard it is to find your own way, to resist the expectations of society and those around you.
I was interested, too, in what happens when you stop desiring what you're told to desire, and what others around you appear to desire - where you go, what you do, who condemns you and who seeks to understand you... Rosa is acutely aware that she is a 'mute, inglorious Milton' – hence the title – she is not being hailed as a great intellect or sage; no one is eagerly awaiting her conclusions on hoary philosophical questions such as 'Why Live?' 'What should I do with my span of years?' 'What constitutes a good life?' Yet she insists on asking these questions, and striving towards her own answers.
> Where and when is the novel set?
It's set in the present day, mostly in West London – that area north of Ladbroke Grove, which mingles extraordinary wealth with grimy housing estates and industrial landscapes that look half-bombed. I've lived there at various points, and it's an area I love to walk around. I'm always intrigued by the severity of the contrasts, by the brutal Trellick Tower rising above the immaculate Georgian terraces, the collision of grandeur and desperation. And there's the incessant motion of the Westway, the commuter trains rattling along overground tracks. Rosa is turning circles in this area of London, until she finally manages to escape to stay with friends in the Lake District -– that journey precipitates the final crisis of the book, and causes her finally to act.
> Do you have a favourite character in the novel?
I have a lot of affection for Rosa herself. I wanted to create a 'warts and all' portrait – so she is at times charming, self-knowing, relatively lucid, and yet she is also irresolute, idle and sometimes plain infuriating. She has stepped out of a life in which everything had become comfortable and familiar, so she is by turns hopeful, terrified, despairing, and then suddenly aware of the inherent absurdity of her situation. I hoped the reader would often find her funny, in a dark comedy kind of way.
> What's your favourite children's book and why?
There are many, but Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising books are really wonderful. Cooper took the Arthurian legend and recast it beautifully – retaining all the complexity of figures such as Merlin yet drawing them into the childhood world of holidays where time is stretched, and mysterious elderly relatives preside over dusty ancient houses, and dream and reality merge – terrifying and alluring at the same time.