Book Club Discussion Material
Thank you for your interest in reading and discussing Malarky. Please feel free to access this material prepared by my publisher Biblioasis. In the interview section of this website, you will find many links to interviews I have done which expand on aspects of Malarky. There is also an extended radio interview with Sheryl Mackay of CBC Radio 1 North by North West. I also think the Barnes & Noble Q&A may prove useful (reproduced below, scroll down) and Kelli Deeth’s Toronto Review of Books questions I certainly enjoyed answering.
Time and family circumstances permitting, I am also happy to Skype into bookclub gatherings to do a short reading and answer a couple of questions.
Discussion Questions (Biblioasis)
Recommended procedure and snacks for discussing Malarky: (Me)
1. Begin every bookclub event with a discussion on today’s weather.
2. End every bookclub event with a speculation on next week’s weather.
3. Do not be afraid to moan vociferously about difficult aspects of your daily lives.
4. Laugh loudly should the urge take you.
5. Should you appreciate Malarky please buy it and give it someone you like as a gift on a random whim.
6. Should you dislike Malarky please buy it and give it to someone you dislike or like on a random whim and then have a discussion or disagreement with said person recommencing at step 1 except substitute the words “this book” at step 3.
Tea. (preferably decent)
Wine (preferably semi decent)
Pie (I’ll leave that up to yourselves to debate)
Chocolate Buttons. (you may have to google them for the gluten allergic, like the fine woman who wrote the book — random chocolate is also very acceptable)
(Please submit your successful snack ventures to the comment section and I shall add them. Also, send photos and I shall also add them. Weather reports are equally welcome.)
BARNES & NOBLE Q&A
A Conversation with Anakana Schofield, Author of Malarky
You have written a book about one Irish woman. What was it that drew you to her world?
I wanted to create a woman who refused to be sunk by what life served her and would choose to interrogate it instead. I also hoped to capture some of the warm humour of the women from rural Ireland who raised me. For one part of the narrative, though, I tried to think of the most disparate things I could — I came up with Syria and rural Ireland — and to unite them on the page. It was a nod to D.H. Lawrence, who could bring coal miners and Japanese wrestling together.
Grief is an immediate theme in the book — is grief a theme in your life?
I am very engaged by writings about mortality and grief has been a defining factor in my life since my father died when I was six. I also admire and find a degree of comfort in the Catholic rituals around death in rural Ireland. There are death announcements three times a day on the radio, people will flock to local funerals, there’s a tradition of pausing outside the person’s house or people blessing themselves passing the church (or graveyard). The culture is attuned to deal with death and a process kicks in over the days that follow. In someways I find things are more isolated in North America, but within diasporas I am sure there are many variables. I just sometimes sense an awful isolation and loneliness for people here when someone dies.
Grief is a different and much more extended matter. I am not sure you ever recover from the death of a loved one. It is perhaps the ultimate sadness a human being can know. I believe one’s entire life may become an undertaking on how to face it. The finality of it then gives way to trying to carry on, with that finality at the forefront of your mind. We understand very little about grief and are busy trying to medicalize it. It needs to take its place within a culture, within a community and within an individual. We need to make space for it, not confine it to disappear with a daily pill. Perhaps if we were more aware of our mortality and it was part of a healthy daily discussion the grief-stricken would feel less alone. Fiction is a place where there’s lots of space to explore these things.
Can you talk about the role of motherhood in Malarky?
I wanted to explore the darker or more turbulent side of motherhood. Malarky began as a parallel narrative. I asked the question: is it possible to love your child so much that you destroy them? and I invented two mothers in different situations and told their stories with the view that eventually their paths might cross. One mother however took over and I switched my attention to a close-up on the life of “Our Woman” Philomena, but this earlier idea lingered. That a mother might wish her adult child to be gone but certainly not to discover that the very thing that dispatched him would in turn ensure he never came back.
I was particularly struck by the pain of mothers during the invasion of Iraq, the mothers whose houses were terrifyingly invaded in the night by the military or bombs dropping all around them, the mothers who lost limbs and children and concurrently the mothers in small town America whose sons and daughters went off to Iraq. I felt for them all. I wanted to say something about the universality that co-exists in this horror. I had a relative who worked in Iraq as an anthropologist; I marched against that war with my very young child in a stroller.
Was it challenging for you to write the sexual content in your novel?
Immensely! I grew up with repressive Catholicism! I certainly never imagined I might write a novel such as this. I heard Anne Enright say in an interview with CBC’s Writers and Company in 2008 she thought “Irish women are too nice and that it’s difficult for an Irish woman to do something for which she would not be liked.” It resonated with me and I decided to do the dirty work that this particular novel demanded rather than turn away from it. So I depicted an older woman with a healthy attitude, who actively enjoys sex. There aren’t so many Irish women in literary fiction who are sexually assertive and not wincing in pain under the quilt cover. I also thought it was important to explore the notion of where people file the things they see. That we sometimes see things and have no place to put them and then witness how they return to haunt us. In this case the mother sees her son engaged in sexual acts with other men and it awakens an eroticism within her, which she is compelled to act (or re-enact) on.