John Ruskin attached a tower to his bedroom on his mountainside estate, Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water in Cumbria. Unlike Sackville-West’s, his tower room windowed on all sides, almost a capsule, offered a corner in which to escape from recurring nightmares or to watch the stars.
Ann Charney's Latest, by Linda Leith28 May 2014
Ann Charney's first book, Dobryd (Permanent Press, 1996) is an autobiographical fiction about a Jewish girl who, by the time she was five years old, had spent half her life hidden away in a barn loft. That’s the beginning of an account of her childhood in a Polish town during World War II.
Rousseau’s Garden (Véhicule Press, 2001), follows Claire, a Montreal photographer, to Paris with her husband, who is an art historian. There she seeks an understanding of her mother and of the panic attacks she herself has been suffering from.
Distantly Related to Freud (Cormorant Books, 2008) is set in Montreal and Long Island, NY in the 1950s. Ellen and her mother have moved into a large house with a group of refugees from Central Europe, whose erratic behaviour and dark view of human nature captivate the young girl’s imagination.
And now, in Life Class (Cormorant, 2013), Charney focuses on Nerina, a young woman from Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia, who lost her parents during the Bosnian war and is now a refugee in Venice. An older woman, Helena, a survivor of World War II, takes Nerina under her wing in a series of events that see her move from Venice to Smith Falls and New York City and then to Montreal.
One of the great things, with a writer who has written several books, is that you can get a sense of the kinds of characters and issues that are of abiding interest to her. Ann Charney’s work is not limited by place or nationality, it has a considerable interest in girls and women in their relationships with their mothers, their friends, and their work, and it is always focused in some way of the process of creation – of writing, of photography, of the visual arts. This is a thoughtful body of work, reflective and wise and increasingly fun and funny as book follows book.
Watch this space for a transcript of the interview, which I will post as soon as I can transcribe it.
© Linda Leith, 2014
Salon .ll. and LLP publisher Linda Leith is the author, most recently, of Writing in the Time of Nationalism, which has just appeared in a French translation by Alain Roy, Écrire au temps du nationalisme (Leméac 2014).