Saturday, October 10, 2015

Emily Holleman

Emily Holleman is a Brooklyn-based writer. After a two-year editing stint at where she had to worry a lot about politics, celebrities and memes, she returned to her true passion: fiction. She's currently working on a set of historical novels that reimagines the saga of Cleopatra from the perspective of her younger sister, Arsinoe. The first of these, Cleopatra's Shadows, is currently available from Little, Brown.

Recently I asked Holleman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. It’s one of those books that tears through you and reminds you of the brilliance of fiction, why you wanted to write it in the first place. It tells the story of Teddy Todd—Ursula’s often ill-fated younger brother, for those who read Life After Life—as he survives a harrowing stint as a British bomber pilot in World War II and continues onto a life he’d never thought he’d had, full of the “ordinary” middle-class mishaps, tragedies and occasional wonders. Atkinson manages to distill great and small moments of the human experience with exquisite precision: a parent’s heart-wrenching disappointment in a child, the daunting secrets and sacrifices of a married couple, an old man’s deep-seeded longing for the imperfect idyll of his childhood. The novel spans much of 20th century British history—the senseless violence of the Second World War, the soul-searching and bucking up of its aftermath, the Flower Child ethos ebbing away into something sterner, more sensible, perhaps. And—miraculously! in the same damn book!—Atkinson also manages to confront the form of the novel itself: why we imagine these lives that have never been and why, given the epic bloodshed that marred the past hundred years, this imagining matters.

On the other end of both the modern-ancient and fiction-non-fiction divide, I’m in the midst of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar. I’m not entirely sure if this one counts, as I’m reading it in part as background research for my next novel (a sequel to Cleopatra’s Shadows in which Julius Caesar plays a pivotal role.) But, in any event, I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in antiquity or the extent to which “great men” do—or don’t—shape history. The book is one of the most comprehensive biographies of the Roman general out there; it not only covers Caesar’s life in exquisite detail, it also casts a lens on the man and the fascinating, vaguely traumatized Rome in which he lived, teetering between its pride in its unique political system and the recent horrors of political violence that system had wrought.

Next up: Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus.
Visit Emily Holleman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue