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Susanna Moore
ONE LAST LOOK is very different from IN THE CUT - what attracted you to this genre?
To my mind, this book is not unlike IN THE CUT or others of my books in that, once again, I am concerned with what it means to be female. I am teased sometimes that I do not write fully about men, but it is true that what most interest me is the condition of women.
The detail and description of India are breath-taking - are they based on fact or did you let your imagination loose?
I lived in Calcutta for four months in 1999 and while there I began to read what diaries and journals and books I could find about Bengal. As Calcutta was the capitol of the Raj until the turn of the last century, there is a great deal of material, and I steeped myself in it. I read a great deal at any time, and it wasn't my intention then to write a book about India, but the more I read, the more I began to wonder what it must have been like, particularly for women. I grew interested in what was NOT being written, what couldn't or needn't or shouldn't have been said, and that is what I tried to write myself.
There are obvious parallels with contemporary history (eg invasion of Afghanistan) - was it intentional?
Oddly enough, it is a coincidence. The book was begun before the American invasion of Afghanistan; before the 11th of September. Once it happened, I thought that it was, in truth, not a good thing for the book, as it might seem as if I were exploiting the political situation or, worse, that I was contributing an oblique, parallel condemnation of my own.
The novel provides an interesting perspective on the British Empire. Were you, as an American, brought up with the sanitized version of Empire that we were?
As an American growing up in the 1950s, I was, of course, treated to a sanitized and self-justifying version of our own imperialism, especially as it concerned early conquests of Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands, and not least but worst of all, our own native Americans. Growing up in Hawaii, I was very aware of the chasm between races and class, and that awareness was very crucial in the shaping of my views. The difference, perhaps, is that America was never the enormous and powerful empire that England was until the First World War, although we seem to be trying our best to be so now.
Eleanor's voice is very convincing. Was it difficult to achieve that level of empathy?
It was difficult to make Eleanor convincing at first because I found her not very sympathetic ---- an odd thing to say, I know, as she is my creature! She is old-fashioned, stubborn, snobbish, intellectual, funny, cold, mordant; a blue stocking aristocrat of that odd tribe that marked the end of the dissolute Regency, the ancien regime, and the arrival of the earnest, religious Victorians. It was important to me, as I too am old-fashioned in holding to the notion that a character in fiction must undergo a change for better or worse, that she undergo that change, but the change had to be subtle, fitting, delicate, appropriate. The interesting thing for me was to find a way to create an Eleanor who was like us, so to speak, with all of the profound differences that exist between us. She could not be untrue to herself, and I could not be untrue to her. (This last sentence reminds me that years ago, in psychoanalysis, I would refer to my unconscious as this thing utterly separate and discrete from myself, to the frustration of my analyst. In this instance, Eleanor is not me, but I did create her.)
Susanna Moore

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