I recently reviewed Leonora Meriel’s The Unity Game and she also participated in a great author interview. Leonora has now kindly agreed to give away paperback copies of this excellent book to three lucky Examining the Odd readers! Simply click here to enter. Good luck!
Interview with Leonora Meriel
• Do you write alone or in public?
I write both – depending on where I can achieve the most undisturbed writing session. If I am alone in the house, then I will write by candlelight on the sofa. If there’s a chance of people pulling me out of my writing world, I’ll escape to a café and find a corner to hide in with a large cup of coffee.
• What are your books about?
My books so far are about the meaning of something. My first novel was about the meaning of happiness – what it is to a young child, to someone who has got their life wrong, looking back on a lifetime. My second novel was about the meaning of life on Earth – our patterns, motivations, structures – it was an exploration of the question rather than offering answers. In the novels I’m currently writing, I’m exploring themes of society, belonging, peace, spirituality, technology and culture. I like to write about themes and questions that have no limits to how deep you can explore them – and also no clear answers. It means that your work will be part of a conversation and a wider exploration.
• What is your favourite part of The Unity Game?
My favourite character in The Unity Game is the genderless energy channeller who boards a space vessel so that it can prolong its lifetime. My readers are really divided about whether they love this character and want more (about 20%) or whether they find this character slow, abstract and frustrating (about 80%). It was the hardest part of the novel to write, as I had to strip out any references to gender or time, and still create coherent sentences. So, my favourite part in the novel is when Noe-bouk (the character) discovers that despite thinking that it has been free and enlightened all of its life, it has in fact done nothing but obey the dry and passionless law of logic. Then it realises the potential of experience there is to be had in the universe. I hope that I will one day have a life re-evaluation on this scale.
• Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns during the whole writing process?
In this novel, The Unity Game, my characters and I were in agreement about where they wanted to go, and my original vision of the novel was fairly close to the end result. In my first novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall, however, my characters had quite different ideas and I had to change a good portion to accommodate what they wanted to do. Once their personality has settled, during a first draft, my characters are entirely independent.
• What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
What fun it is! There is a great stereotype of tortured creative souls living in misery and eking out livings and masterpieces while having disastrous relationships and miserable lives (did I make that up?). However, having your work out in the public is enormous fun. People read it and comment on it. Some hate it and write long tracts on why, and what – which is fascinating! I agree with a lot of it. Some love it and are incredibly moved by it. Wow. There are book blogs, there are fans, there are readers, there are other writers. All I have ever wanted to do is write, and now I am in a heaving, wild, living community of readers and writers. It’s wonderful.
• Are there any websites or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?
An amazing website I used for The Unity Game is Sky Map Online. There were some specific references to constellations in The Unity Game, and with this website, I was able to see the exact configuration of the sky from a specific place in the world, on a specific day in the past. Extraordinary! I believe this is the website used by the hugely talented Eleanor Catton in her Booker-award winning The Luminaries, which is structured around the constellations and set during the 1800s. Even if it’s not a feature in your novel – it’s fun to see what the stars were like on the day of your birth, or on the date of your character’s most important event.
• What genre do you consider your books to be in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I consider my novels to be Literary Fiction, in the sense that they are written with the intention of being serious, high-quality fiction, and contributing to the body of literature in the world. As sub-genres, my first novel was magical realism, and my second novel was speculative science fiction. I certainly hope to try a wide range of genres during my writing career – I’m currently writing a piece of literary fiction, and trying to keep it on the Earth, with no magic – my personal challenge. I’m also writing a children’s book and a poetic novella. As I writer I plan to grow and expand and challenge myself until the very last word I write.
• Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
I’ve met the author David Mitchell at a book reading in London, and he was wonderful, funny, erudite and inspiring. I also knew the Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov when I lived in Kyiv. When I worked at the United Nations, I was present at the Millennium Assembly in 1999, and was thus in close proximity to every world leader of the time, however I was too shy and lowly to introduce myself to any.
• If you could write about anyone (fictional/non-fictional) who would you write about?
I am writing about the people I want to write about. Socrates decided he wanted to make an appearance in The Unity Game, so he snuck in there with Plato. I’m currently re-reading some Albert Camus, and I have a feeling he is going to get a cameo, especially as one of my current characters lives in Paris. There are several Ukrainian characters I’m interested in also, such as the writer Lesya Ukrainka. I’d be surprised if she didn’t turn up soon. With fiction, you can do anything!
• Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I’d say – please look at our relationship as just that – a relationship. I write the books, but you are a critical part of the equation as the readers of the books, the writers of the reviews, the hosts of the book blogs, the whisperers of recommendations and the requests to local bookshops to stock a great book you’ve just discovered. I have the power to create worlds (you do too!) but you have the power to create success for a writer. I’d like to thank each and every reader for that, and to say – please don’t underestimate your role in a writer’s life and career. Thank you!
The Unity Game
WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?
A New York banker is descending into madness.
A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.
From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.
Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a ‘complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel’ from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.
This is the second book that I’ve read by Leonora Meriel, the first being The Woman Behind the Waterfall. It has cemented my views that she’s a great writer, particularly because the two books are just so different. For this reason, I really don’t think I could say which I enjoyed the most – they’re too different to compare.
The Unity Game is written in rotating sections, a style that I always enjoy reading, covering a host of very diverse characters. Some characters, such as David, a New York banker, are explored heavily, whilst others remain somewhat mysterious. Whether you’ve read The Woman Behind the Waterfall or not, I would highly recommend reading The Unity Game.
Spoilers (scroll past the cover image if you’ve already read this book and want to compare notes!)
David is such a well-written character. I felt true hatred and disgust towards him at times, particularly in his more violent sexual scenes, but I also managed to always want to understand what he was going through. Why was he doing these things? Was he going to be ok? Truthfully, I really liked him and found him to be a very believable character. His dream scenes were probably my favourite sections of the book.
Alisdair’s experiences were really interesting to me. I didn’t care about him so much and I’m not sure we’re really supposed to, but it was fascinating to imagine being in his shoes in the after-life that exists in the novel. It could almost be a starting point for one of Stephen Baxter’s immense short story collections, like Vacuum Diagrams or one of the Xeelee books.
The story of the alien pair was so very emotional but also strangely flat. I don’t mean that as an insult to the storytelling but more as a compliment to the range of feelings which are shown throughout the book. David’s life and experiences are so vivid and action-packed and here are these two beings… on a mammoth task yes, but ultimately experiencing something very basic.
I was a little bit disappointed that Elspeth wasn’t in the story more, but I can see why the novel needed to focus more on David. At least she got her wonderful ending!
Thank you for reading this review! I hope it inspires you to try one of Leonora Meriel’s books because they really are great reads.
Yesterday I posted my review of Leonora Meriel’s wonderful book The Woman Behind the Waterfall. Today we have a guest post from Leonora herself and a giveaway of 5 signed copies of the book! Details of the giveaway can be seen at the end of this post.
Heartbreak and redemption in the beauty of a Ukrainian village
For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river. All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother’s fateful choices.
Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?
Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.
To me, the world is full of magic.
Some of it is right in front of our noses – out there in the street; in the park; in the passers-by; in a gesture; a cloud; a falling leaf.
Some of it is right here inside our heads – those worlds churning in our minds that lead us to write, to paint, to play games, to dance.
And some of it is in our dreams – the flying, the dark magic of nightmares, the child’s viewpoint, the unnamable joy.
For me – all this magic comes from one place – the universal mind; and no one has expressed it better for me than C.J. Jung with his “collective unconscious”. In my imagination, I picture it as a great, chaotic sea, with archetypes, dreams, memories, all of the emotions and feelings and experiences of the world poured into it. And from this great churning sea, we build our individual worlds: the society we choose as our social architecture; the belief systems we practice; the relationship models we create and re-create over the generations.
But all these models – all these choices – are just one variation. And in my imagination, the variety is endless. Worlds, belief systems, societies, usage of that legendary 95% brain power. Everything could be different! And art is the place where we explore that – the alternative worlds, the alternative expressions of this world, the subconscious manifested into our lives, the dreams become real.
Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Publishing Date: October 1, 2016
Page count: hardback, 234 pages, paperback: 262 pages
To me, as I step out of the house each day, I see the pavement, the houses, the sky, the trees in season, the cars, the relationships and their dramas. And yet, I feel so aware that this is just a fraction of what is happening. My very perception is limited by what I expect to see. Someone expecting to see all bad things would see the darkness in the street. A resilient optimist would see the flickers of smiles and touched hands; colours, nature – this is all conditioned from our expectations.
And so, when I write fiction, I try to present a wider world, with a little of that brimming magic which, to me, is always there. I try to express the subconscious spilling out the way it does; the dreams mixing with the waking days; the heartbreak which resounds back through generations of archetypal heartbreaks in the universal mind.
In “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” I contrast two different worlds. Lyuda, a young, depressed mother, lives in her own darkness – she sees the world around her and she remembers her mistakes and she can’t see any happiness at all. She drinks Ukrainian homebrew – samohon – to dull the pain.
Her seven year old daughter, Angela, is on the border where her child’s imagination is about to move into a singular understanding of the world. But for the time in the book, she exists in a place where everything flows into everything else – all creation is one – and she is a natural part of it. Angela sees a bird and feels its spirit, and then she is flying in the bird:
Sometimes I prefer to sit in the tree above. A bird. A leaf. A single star from a cluster of lilac. I catch a thread of song across the garden and release myself into it, shift the girl into a quiet background and enter the breath of music which carries me into the bird.
And for a moment I am that music, shimmering against the air, and then I am creating the music. It is I who am singing. I am within the spirit of the bird. And I look around me at the springtime garden and I know why I am singing. The insistent green that is everywhere! The birds that are returning to familiar gardens! The flowers exploding into bloom with every new instant of sunshine!
Angela is also in tune with her subconscious. She is open to the archetypes and to the whispers of the women who make up her generations. Her soul and her imagination are open to guidance:
“I lie on the bottom of the river, which is clear like a sheet of glass. Below me, pale spirits from that other river—the river below this river—rise up and bring me flowers. Women in ragged white with long trailing hair made from the riverbed strands. I hold out my hands.
Take them, my Nightspirit says.
I take the flowers and the women sink back into the depths.
The riverbed clouds over into silt and weeds and stones.
I rise to the surface.”
The symbolism of the river and the water represents the flow of time, and the continuation of the experience of life. All our experiences – through each of our lifetimes and bodies – represent another drop in the eternal flow of life; just as all living things are connected to the flow of everything else – a wonderful concept from the ancient spiritual texts, now proven by the quantum scientists (yes – I read several quantum physics books as research for “The Woman Behind the Waterfall”).
Angela expresses her natural, childlike curiosity when she enters the spirits of different living things: birds, flowers, the river, the air. However, towards the end of the book, she uses it to also express her powerful emotions. When she believes that her mother is going to kill herself, Angela transforms into a storm, and lashes rain over the village, destroying, screaming, furious and wild:
“I draw the clouds to me, seeking the water from the sky and keeping it close; gathering the thoughts into form, one after another, cloud upon cloud, closer and closer into the darkest place. And I call to the sky that there is no need here for light, and the sky closes as I cover it with my anger, and when at last everything is dark and everything is brought into a tight, furious centre, then I whisper to the clouds around me, “It is time,” and I release a scream into the universe and the clouds let out a deafening roll of thunder that goes on and on and on, and lightning flashes down repeatedly onto the garden and the village and the river and over everything that I know, and when the thunder and my scream are finished, then I pull my arms from around my chest and I hold them out and I let the rains pour down onto the earth.”
The main theme of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” is the search for happiness, and the mother, Lyuda’s, path from her closed, three-dimensional world, out into Angela’s wonderful, magical, natural, joyful multidimensional world. Angela fights hard to show her mother how to enter this place:
I hear the birds singing in the lilac tree nearby and I close my eyes on this late spring morning and my hand is in Mama’s hand and I feel something light flowing from her hand to mine and I think, what if she could?
I whisper to her to close her eyes and I know when she has closed them because I feel another rush of lightness from her hand to mine and I whisper again—“Mama, fly!”—and suddenly Mama and I are great white storks flying through the clear blue air and the wind is rushing cold and bright against us and against our feathers, and we are pushing the air down with powerful wide strokes and Mama’s wide, strong wings are beating next to mine and my smaller wings are beating down, down beside her and I feel her powerful love protecting me with each beat, beat, beat. We are flying over the rooftops of our village—some thatched, some red-tiled—with the long strips of gardens trailing out from tiny houses and the spring-lit trees below us and I can feel Mama’s joy absorbing the completeness of every movement, every barb of every feather creating each stroke of her wings and carrying her beside me through this bright, rushing air. The lightness, the power, the wind. We fly and fly towards a huge nest at the top of a tree and I feel a pull towards it and Mama comes to land in a cave of twigs and I land behind her and she turns and wraps her wide wings around me, little bird disappearing into softness.
It is only as Lyuda accepts the magic around her into her life, that she begins to feel the possibility of happiness.
The difference between the closed, physical world that Lyuda inhabits, and the open, magical world that Angela does, is stark in “The Woman Behind the Waterfall.” But this is how most people live. They believe in one version of the world, and close out the brimming creative magic which is all around. The world of dreams. The world of the subconscious. The world of the 95% brain. The world that every other person perceives. The unlimited possibilities.
It is the job of writers and artists and musicians and the creative industries to bring these other worlds to those ready to hear them. Music that takes you on an ethereal journey; paintings by Chagall and Magritte which speak directly to your subconscious and are scooped out of the universal mind. Writings of novelists such as García Márquez and Isabel Allende.
These worlds are all around us. Our only job is to open up to them – and our own magical realities will become so much richer.
Leonora Meriel is the author of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” (published October 2016, Granite Cloud), called “an intoxicating world” by Kirkus Reviews; “a timeless and universal novel” by Goodreads reviewers, “a strange and beautiful novel” by writer Esther Freud. Her upcoming novel “The Unity Game” will be published in May 2017.
“Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating worlds” – Kirkus Reviews
“A strange and beautiful novel” – Esther Freud, author of Hideous Kinky, Peerless Flats, Mr Mac and Me
“A literary work of art” – Fiona Adams, Richmond Magazine
“Timeless and universal novel” – Goodreads & Amazon reviewer
“A beautiful, thought-provoking exploration of family ties” – MP, Amazon reviewer
Leonora Meriel has very kindly offered to give away a signed copy of The Woman Behind the Waterfall (usually $11.99-$16.99 unsigned!) to 5 lucky Examining the Odd readers! The winners will be chosen at random and no purchase is required to enter.
The competition will open with the publishing of this post and will be closed to entries at midday GMT on Sunday 19th March 2017. To enter, you simply need to comment on this blog post. For legal reasons, all entrants must be aged 18 or over, and you cannot enter if you live in Canada, sorry.
Once the deadline has passed, I will use random.org to choose the 5 winners. Winners will be notified within three working days of the deadline and will be contacted via whatever means possible based on their comment/profile. Their details will then be passed on to Leonora who will personally send the books to each winner. Good luck!
For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.
The Woman Behind the Waterfall manages to present incredibly real characters. The main characters are a mother and daughter, but there is also a grandmother, lover, friend and family friend.
All are easily accessible to the reader, whether your life echos them or not. The book is split into three parts (literally) and I have to say that Part I was my favourite. This does not mean in any sense that I did not enjoy the rest of the book.
Part I mainly focuses on the young girl and her connection with nature and the spirit world. It’s written in a unique style, with lots of short sentences and repetition, like we’re following the thoughts of a child.
It contains some truly beautiful scenes. My favourite deals with the death of a bird. It begins sadly and with apprehension, but Meriel manages to create a beautiful death scene with nothing negative about it whatsoever.
The mother in the book suffers severely with depression and this contrasts strongly with the upbeat and carefree little girl. At times it can be hard to sympathise with the mother. I wanted her to see what she had and embrace it.
Of course, this was intentional and forms part of the plot. To me, the book’s main theme is depression and struggling to feel like a part of a family when one’s sense of self (positive or negative) is so strong.
I can imagine that for many people this book could be raw and painful, possibly causing distress and anger to particular readers. To me, it was beautiful and thought-provoking, occasionally sparking an angry question towards the author in my mind, but quickly resolving itself.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is a parent, plans to be one, or who has one. So yes, that’s pretty much everyone. The style is particularly hard to categorise for a potential reader though…
The cover of the book, although beautiful, is not one that I would pick up. It looks mainstream and that doesn’t interest me. Readers of Examining the Odd: do not fear! This book is not mainstream and normal! It’s a feat of literary writing!
However, the subject matter itself is extremely normal. The Woman Behind the Waterfall hovers on dodgy ground: I can see fans of “normal” fiction finding the writing far too strange and complicated (particularly the first third of the book), while fans of unusual and daring writing may find themselves disappointed as they delve into part II and find an almost mainstream family drama. My message to both camps: don’t worry. Stick with it. You will be satisfied.
I don’t always give ratings but I give The Woman Behind the Waterfall 4 out of 5. Why not 5? I believe that Leonora Meriel has the ability to write some truly groundbreaking stuff and I want to see it.
Exciting news! Leonora Meriel has agreed to write a guest post about magic realism for Examining the Odd – keep your eyes peeled!