Thursday, July 19, 2007


Joanna Kavenna's first book, The Ice Museum, was short-listed for the Ondaatje Prize. Her writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

She applied the "Page 69 Test" to her new novel, Inglorious, and reported the following:
By p 69 of Inglorious my protagonist Rosa Lane has left her job and her relationship and embarked on a mock-heroic quest for meaning in her life. Rosa is 35, and her mother has recently died. This causes her to question some of her assumptions. Her job as a journalist, which has supplied her with a sense of purpose for over a decade, seems suddenly inexplicable; she finds she can no longer produce confident opinions, elegant phrases. She realises she knows very little about anything.

By p 69 some months have passed since Rosa left her job and relationship, and she is really out on a limb. She has fallen into debt, and is trying to find work, while living in a borrowed room in North-West London. She undergoes a daily series of minor trials, all part of her comical mock-quest for meaning: she roams around London, seeing the city anew after all these years, meeting contemporary gorgons and battling miniature demons.

On p 69, she is describing a visit she recently made to a doctor, Dr Kamen. She goes to see the doctor in the hope that her malaise might have a physical cause, which can be cured with medicine, but the doctor disappoints her. He tells her she is not physically unwell. He asks her to tell him what she is feeling, and so on p 69 Rosa is trying to explain that she is troubled by an ‘unseen impediment’, some ‘basic fact. Or conjunction of facts. Perhaps not even facts, just things. And then some days,’ she adds, ‘I think that maybe this is what I’m trying to get to, this fact – or facts, this thing – or things – that would explain everything.’

The doctor doesn’t really understand. He tells her not to fret so much, that her prince will come. He assumes that she is simply questing for love. This causes Rosa to retreat, aware that he has judged and misunderstood her, that he can supply no answers.

P 69 points up some of the concerns of Inglorious: Rosa’s sense of the mingled seriousness and absurdity of her quest, her self-consciousness, her sense that people like her are simply not meant to trouble the stream, are rather meant to go into work and be obedient. It also displays Rosa’s fears that revelations will not be forthcoming, that she will fail in her mock-quest.

P 69 also suggests how Rosa is constantly told to stop making a fuss, to get a grip. I thought this might be a likely response to a young woman who acts in this way. I felt there was a chance she would be told to buck up, to stop being self-indulgent. Rosa, who feels violently ill at ease in modern consumerist society, and yet can find no alternative, is sent into exile, but no one finds anything heroic or admirable in this exile. Everyone she encounters sees her as merely perverse, or confused, and advises her to submit to normality, the rules of her society.
Read an excerpt from Inglorious and more at Joanna Kavenna's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue