Saturday, July 24, 2021

Hermione Hoby

Photograph by Nina Subin
Hermione Hoby grew up in Bromley, in south London, and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review she moved to New York in 2010. She has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's, and others. She has also interviewed hundreds of cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Her debut novel, Neon in Daylight, is a two-time New York Times editors’ choice.

Hoby's second novel is Virtue.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I like how the word has both an old-fashioned tenor, as in "feminine virtue" and, simultaneously, a contemporary flavor in terms of "virtue-signaling". (It's interesting to me that "virtue" is a term rarely used sincerely any more.) In some sense, I think this is an old-fashioned novel. The setting may be contemporary, the politics and attitudes are of this moment, but formally, it's just pretty traditional. The book is about trying to be good, and the near-impossibility of living an uncompromised life in a compromised world, so I hope the title does something to indicate that, and to convey both earnestness and irony.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

She wouldn't read the novel, she'd just be too busy freaking out that we'd written one and that it was published. So her incredulity over "being a published author" would eclipse any kind of reaction she had to the book's content. I'd look on in affectionate embarrassment and mutter pleas for her to be a bit quieter.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are harder. For this one, the bad beginning which I wrote and rewrote and despaired over and rewrote again finally became a sort of pre-ending, in which Luca imagines his own ending. Beginnings, of course, are powered by that rush of optimism and possibility. But striking the perfect honesty of an ending is so much harder - it's so much more difficult to honor the characters and what's come before, to find that sweet spot of resolve and surprise. You don't want things to be too pat, too neatly ribbon-bow-ed, but nor do you want it to trail off inconsequentially, leaving a reader deflated.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

If I saw myself in them I couldn't write them; they have to be realer than me, but at the same time yes of course they are bits of me, as well as bits of other people. Writing as a young dude was fun, although having him eat a Whopper was extremely hard - one of the most difficult moments to inhabit! (I'm a lifelong vegetarian and I think I'd rather chew off my own little finger than eat an animal's corpse but don't hold me to that, I need my typing hands.)

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I'm extremely greedy with input: I need sixty or so good books a year, but I also need people, visual art, music, conversation, style in whatever forms that takes. So, it's all influence, all material. I just grab whatever I can get from wherever and everywhere I can get it. I continue to write mostly to Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, which is a magical piece of music.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

Writers Read: Hermione Hoby (January 2018).

The Page 69 Test: Virtue.

--Marshal Zeringue