Catherine Lacey’s debut novel Nobody Is Ever Missing (Granta, £7.99) follows Elyria, a young woman who, fleeing her marriage and sorrows, hitchhikes across the wilds of New Zealand.
In modern life, where marriage and domesticity are optional, why do you think stories of female escapism resonate so much?
Unfortunately, we still live with old cultural stories about women and people of colour and I think the process of breaking down these stories is still very much underway. Marriage and domesticity are certainly more optional than they used to be, but “female escapism” wouldn’t be discussed as much if all life choices were equally respected. So maybe it’s resonating because we’re changing? I hope.
Wild and Eat Pray Love are two examples of this – both have had major Hollywood adaptations. Do you have cinematic ambitions for Nobody Is Ever Missing? And just for fun, who would you envisage playing Elyria?
It would be interesting to see an adaptation but I don’t think anything is happening yet. I’m pretty out of touch when it comes to actors but I would love to see it directed by a woman who had travelled alone for a while.
You touch on the dangers facing a woman travelling alone but Elyria’s journey is thrust forward by her unstable state of mind. Do you think for women part of the romanticism of embarking on this kind of journey is that they are locked out of them for fear of their own safety?
A lot of women carry around unconscious assumptions about what we can and cannot do, but almost all of it is bullshit fed to us by centuries of men who have been afraid of our power. Can a woman write a story about a woman that isn’t about the fact that she’s a woman? Can a story of a woman travelling alone actually be a story of a person travelling alone? I did not realise while I was writing that these would be the questions I’d have to keep considering, but they certainly are.
“I wonder if the way in which we are monitored will make disappearance even more desirable.”
Did you do any research into missing people?
I didn’t do any research about missing people but I did at some point get very interested in people who survived falls from great heights. The world record holder is Vesna Vulovi?, a woman who fell 33,333 feet in a plane crash without a parachute in 1972 and survived.
Do you think that in many cases people don’t want to be found?
I imagine there have been people who have chosen to disappear. I wonder if the way in which we are monitored — willingly, through our technology and social networks, and unwillingly through surveillance of which we are not always aware — will make disappearance even more desirable.
Did the themes of grief and depression come from a personal place or did they require research?
I’m not sure you could research grief or depression. Depression, I knew, though I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t. Grief, weirdly, I had not experienced first hand when I wrote the book. A few months after I had completely finished writing the novel I lost my stepsister and I didn’t realise until then that I had written a book about grief. But nothing prepares you for it. You can’t research it. It just flattens you. There’s no negotiating with it. Trauma and depression aren’t usually like that. You can have a conversation with depression but grief doesn’t care, won’t listen.
The narrative is almost an internal monologue or stream of consciousness. What challenges did this style of writing throw up?
It took me a good year or so of writing in circles before I found her voice, but when I found it, the rhythm and force of it carried me away. When I was deepest in the work, spending five hours a day on it, the story really wore me out, but sometimes it was fun too, when I could get some distance and she felt like a character I could play.