Cambridge Edition February 2019


a critical mass, I can do the revisions anytime, anywhere. But the tough stuff of working the imagination and breaking the white page requires, for me, a lot of empty space. I’ve actually just started work on another novel that’s historical fiction – something I thought I’d never write! But I had an idea, several years ago, and the idea has stayed with me and I’ve done quite a bit of research so, we’ll see… It’s an experiment, as writing always is.” A Perfect Mother is written entirely from the perspective of its main character, Jacob, who visits Trieste in northern Italy to research his great-grandfather, who went missing in the city in 1938. “I had no idea where the novel was going when I first started,” Katri reveals. “I had some characters, a place and a few ideas I wanted to explore. As the characters evolved, through writing and research, the story began to take shape.” On why the real-life Trieste captured her imagination, Katri says: “It’s at the crossroads of Europe, a place where writers and exiled royals washed up through the centuries – James Joyce lived there for many years – and is a city associated with exile.” involving the meeting of strangers. Katri wanted to explore how strangers have a useful habit of telling each other secrets that they don’t normally reveal to those who know them well. In A Perfect Mother, the reader is only ever told what Jacob knows and experiences, and meets other characters at the same time that he does, which keeps a tight focus on his storyline. In order to plot the book, Katri actually wrote a great deal of first-person narrative from the viewpoint of the other two central characters, Jane and Charlotte. “Most of which was not used in the actual novel,” explains Katri. “So Jacob’s interactions with them, through talking, texts and email (and then of course what he actually feels and thinks about them) is a sifted version.” The novel asks big questions about parenting, histories and personal identity, and touches on huge universal themes that could easily overwhelm the reader – so having a single narrator keeps the story under tight control. But this required a lot of groundwork during the book’s construction. “I was keen to keep central the idea that we only know each other and love each other through the stories we hear and tell,” Katri says. “So Jacob comes to Trieste because of the stories told to him by his grandfather and he comes to know both women as they tell him stories about themselves – and each other. He is a somewhat passive character, who gains more agency as the events of the novel unfold. I felt I fully had to know all the characters and the She decided to use this historic location as the setting for a story

events that informed their lives and their pasts before I could more formally ‘plot’ the novel. This only happened after I’d written a draft.” And the meaning of the title? “I was interested in exploring questions and assumptions about parenting, so the title is an ironic riff on the idea of the perfect mother and the nuclear family inspired by DW Winnicott’s phrase, ‘good enough mother’,” Katri says. “It wasn’t intended to appeal directly to any one particular group over another – other than hoping that the narrative suspense would keep people reading who might otherwise find the material too dark, or too layered in a literary sense. I think it’s up to each reader to have their own experience of the novel. For me, the moment it was published, it became about those who bought and read and talked to each other about it – it’s not about me. I think this is the enormous value of book clubs.” l


Heffers is located at 20 Trinity Street, Cambridge.


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