Robert Birnbaum interviews Zoe Heller

The Morning News has made my day by posting Mr. Robert Birnbaum’s interview with Zoe Heller. (Robert told me last Wednesday that it was coming, and I’ve been hitting reload on the site every three minutes all week, just in case the editors decided to break with tradition and post two features in one day.)

Heller wrote one of my favorite books of last year, What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal. She talks here about her poorly-received first novel (What Was She Thinking? was the second):

ZH: . . . My first book got shat upon from a great height in England, which, to me because it was my home country, my people, was very devastating. It also came out there first. It was my first experience being published and I was very heavily pregnant at the time and rather tired and emotional.

RB: Nobody had to show you the reviews.

ZH: No, no they couldn’t have stopped me. I don’t buy all that bullshit, people say, “I don’t read my reviews. Somebody tells me vaguely what they are like.” How incurious can you be? Don’t be ridiculous! So no, I read them several times over. And they were big because I was reasonably well known as a columnist and a journalist. So I got a lot of attention for a little, slim, first-time novel. It was all, [raises her voice] “Heller fails to find her fictional voice.”

RB: [Laughs]

ZH: “Heller is crap.”

RB: Oh no.

ZH: It was really, very punishing. And quite ad feminem or whatever you would call it and so personal.

RB: Anyone you knew?

ZH: Oh, yeah, there were people–like I had written a not very nice review of Emma Tennant’s book the week before. And she specially asked to review my book. That was very bad form. Anyway so there was a lot of that. So sure, I am grateful when I get nice things. “Hilarious,” I agree with you that it’s probably not hilarious. Although I have to say I do like the idea of making people laugh or cry with books. The kind of fantasy of sitting on the subway and watching someone pick up your book and having some sort of physical, palpable reaction is very strong in me.


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