Monday, November 3, 2014

"The Lodger"

Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.

Treger subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women’s writing.

Married with three children, she lives in London.

Treger applied the Page 69 Test to The Lodger, her first novel, and reported the following:
When I first heard about the Page 69 test, I was sceptical. How could one page chosen at random possibly capture the heart of my book? Yet uncannily, many of the important themes are right here on page 69. How do you make that work, Marshal?!

The story thus far: Dorothy has been invited to visit her old school friend, Jane. Unexpectedly, she finds herself falling for Jane’s husband, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Mind you, Jane’s husband isn’t just anyone, he is the writer H.G. Wells: brilliant, charismatic, and on the cusp of fame. Wells, or Bertie, as he is known to friends, tells Dorothy that he and Jane have an agreement which allows them the freedom to take lovers, though Dorothy is sure Jane isn’t happy with this arrangement. Dorothy is torn agonisingly between her loyalty to her friend, and an attraction she finds harder and harder to resist.

Page 69 marks the pivotal point where her resistance to Bertie weakens. It also underscores central themes in the novel, like the relationship between love and creativity, here encapsulated in the Wells’s unusual marriage. Jane permits the love affairs that are vital to Bertie’s creativity; at the same time, she holds his life together and he can’t do without her. The page reveals Bertie’s complex character: he has a mesmerising and powerful personality, yet he can be petulant and self-centred.

My novel is also about the art and craft of storytelling, about Dorothy’s quest for a new way of writing that will capture the moment of being, the very essence of existence. “We will have all life within the novel,” proclaims Wells on page 69, in a clear statement of his own literary ambitions. Yet his words have sinister overtones: we are learning that Wells tries to make everyone in his life a character, dominating and shaping them into his own masterfully controlling and egocentric view of the world.

Here is the page:
“Shouldn’t you be working?”

“I can’t work,” Bertie admitted. “My mind and my thoughts – are just swirling about … I’m distracted by wanting you. It’s like someone murmuring continuously in a room while I try to write.”

He saw the doubt in Dorothy’s eyes, and he answered her gently, without her having to put anything into words. “Jane is the anchor of my existence. You are the zest.”

Dorothy stepped into the room and he shut the door behind her. There was silence.

“Damn you!” he burst out. “Not having you is interfering with my work, my mission…” He flung a hand at the untidy heap of pages at his desk.

“May I look?” she asked cautiously.

He nodded moodily. “It’s in its infancy still. It’s an essay called ‘The Contemporary Novel.’”

Filled with curiosity, Dorothy picked up sheets covered with small, densely written prose. He had never let her see his work in progress before.

We are going to write about it all. We are going to write about business and finance, and politics and precedence, and decorum and indecorum, until a thousand pretences and a thousand impostures shrivel in the cold, clean air of our elucidations. We are going to write of waste of opportunities and latent beauties until a thousand new ways of living open to man and woman … Before we have done, we will have all life within the novel.

(Passage in italics from “The Contemporary Novel” by H.G. Wells, Fortnightly Review, November 1911.)
Visit Louisa Treger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue