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Caroline Adderson on The Sky is Falling

The Sky is Falling by Caroline Adderson

The Sky is Falling, by Caroline Adderson. Thomas Allan. 310 pages.

Describe the genesis of The Sky is Falling.

When I turned forty a number of years ago – the prime age for a look back — I found myself reflecting on two contrasting periods of my life.  One was my early twenties when I was at university and a passionate anti-nuclear activist utterly convinced that the world was about to end unless I, personally, pitched in to prevent it from happening. The other was when I was fifteen and diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  It struck me, in middle age now and a fairly objective observer of my own past, as quite interesting that I actually never felt imperiled as a teenager despite having a potentially life-threatening disease, yet I was so anguished as a young adult about our theoretical death.  How our sense of mortality changes at different ages became one of the ironies in the novel. Pascal, who is a sixteen year-old with cancer, engages so completely with life that his own situation doesn’t even register.  On the other hand, Sonia and Jane, who are both nineteen, are so focused on nuclear war that they are, practically speaking, scared to death.

Sonia and Jane’s friendship is the main relationship in the story. Tell us about it.

Jane meets Sonia when she moves into a shared student house.  Jane, who is essentially friendless and has had no sexual experiences of any kind, easily becomes confused by the love she starts to feel for the intense, emotional Sonia.  This part of the novel is set in the 1980s when feminism was so dogmatic and homosexuality still a shocker.  What Jane is actually feeling is commonly known as “the girl crush”.  Apart from Colette and, of course, the greatest chronicler of the phenomenon, Tolstoy, I’m not aware the girl crush has been much explored in literature.

Where did you come up with Peter English?

Part of what I love about being a writer is taking on characters very different from myself even when it involves getting in the psyche of someone I wouldn’t necessarily want to know in real life.  Pete is the resident anarchist in the house, brilliant, sexy and highly principled, though some of his principles seem self-serving, like his insistence on free love.  With Pete, everything gets questioned.  This, of course, comes off as a challenge to a lot of people, one of them Dieter, the fourth housemate.  So a “male” dynamic is playing out in the house between Pete and Dieter at the same time as Sonia and Jane’s particularly “female” one.  It results in much of the tension in the house and reflects the notorious in-fighting that inflicted the peace movement.  For me, the writer, it was hugely fun to filter everything that happens through Pete’s very rigid – though sometimes admirable – credo.

What is the relevance of Russian Literature to the novel?

That’s what Jane studies at university, Russian language and literature, her great loves (and mine, I might add) — Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev.  Chekhov in particular informs her view of the world.   In his stories and plays he writes about students and radicals, ennui and discontent.  The political climate of late 19th and early 20th century Russia seems so strikingly similar to the 1980s that his work sings with universality and relevance.  I love how Jane uses the stories to understand the new people in her life.  Sonia is like Anna Sergeyevna, “The Lady with the Lap Dog,” Pete like Misail, the idealistic narrator of “My Life,” and Jane herself like the awkward and pathetic Staff-Captain Ryabovich from “The Kiss.”  Studying Russian is also how she ends up in the direct-action group.  During the Cold War, taking Slavonic Studies (which I did) felt a bit subversive.  Russian equaled Communism equaled evil.  Sound familiar?

The novel is set both in 1984 and 2004. What is your reason for this framing device?

The Sky Is Falling is essentially an historical novel, even though the historical time it represents is not that long ago.  For historical fiction to be really relevant, I think it has to cast light on our present world.  What I’m doing with the two time periods, I hope, is making this light shine brighter for readers who might not see the point of a novel about an obsolete political movement.  Yet there are so many interesting parallels between now and the 80s. When 9/11 happened, it was the first time people who had been born after the Berlin Wall fell felt the magnitude of fear we lived with daily in the 80s, or denied.  The aftermath of 9/11 has been “the war on terror”, which has neatly replaced the Cold War, “terrorist” being the new dirty word, instead of “communist”.  And this awful truth: in 1984 there were more than fifty thousand nuclear weapons both threatening and, purportedly, protecting us.  Where are they now?

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Posted by Pearl on Sep 25 2010. Filed under Author Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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