Having recently read Repeat it Today with Tears the author Anne Peile kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book. She sent me the answers as a written letter which in the day and age of email and twitter was something rather special.
In a nutshell the book told the story of Susie, a bright girl from a broken home who is destined for Oxford and a life away from her mother, sister and mother’s boyfriend. But her obsession with her father tips over into a sexual relationship that destroys them both. The story is set in 1970s Chelsea and is described in such vivid detail you can picture the streets that Susie walks down as if watching back old cine film.
Thanks Anne for answering my questions and good luck with the next book. The way London of the past came to life on the pages of Repeat it Today was quite wonderful.
Q. Where did the idea come from for the story?
“The story came to me more or less fully formed though Susie does, of course, have some pretty august literary ancestors – from Ovid onwards.”
Q. The old London you describe is so wonderfully done was it a world you knew personally or did you have to go and do a lot of research to be able to produce such vivid descriptions of 1970s Chelsea?
“I do know South West London fairly well, I also have a working background in 20th century social and cultural history which helps with contextual ‘props, including issues relating to the hospital passages.”
Q. Some of the scenes, particularly the intimate ones between Susanna and her father make difficult reading were they difficult to write?
“Overall, I did not find any particular scenes more difficult to write than others.”
Q. Is Susanna a character you would use in another book? She was left damaged but had a lot of life potentially ahead of her.
“I do not think that I shall write about Susie again although I will certiantly revist Chelsea and that era – indeed the book I am writing at the moment has some SW3 locations.”
Got to start by putting my cards on the table. I’m a prude. Yes that’s right I struggle with reading sex scenes in books. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I know that’s my problem not the authors but that’s just the way it is. Put it down to a religious upbringing or something.
So it was with a deep breath that I allowed myself to be taken into this story of incest between a father and a daughter. I’m not going to try and fudge it I didn’t like the sex scenes.
But this is not just a book trying to court some sort of shock value and there is something quite important being raised here about the sense of damage and how someone can long for a love so much that the lines between a paternal and sexual relationship blur.
The relationship takes up the central action of the book but there is the build up as Susanna sets out to discover her father and the post collapse of the affair that make this a study of an individual woman growing up and falling apart.
As well as the father and the daughter the other main character is 1970s Chelsea which is described so well this is almost like a historical travelogue at points allowing you to walk through a lost world full of colourful characters and real possibilities as the young dreamed of changing their lives and their parents partied and bed hopped their way out of boredom.
Neither the father or the daughter come out of this in a good position with one dead and the other institutionalised. But beyond the shocking incest the way that Peile handles the impact on Susanna is what makes this book keep your attention. The search for love takes her to places that really she shouldn’t have gone but it is her fear of rejection and the need to be possessed by a love so strong it fills in all the gaps of her childhood that drives her to make a fatal decision.
Even afterwards it is the loss of that love that returns her to someone who is clearly mentally damaged. She had been all along but when there was hope of finding her father and filling the gap it remained hidden. With him gone she can never be healed.
I might have struggled with this book and found some of it deeply disturbing but in some senses literature should be challenging and brave enough to go to to the dark places and see what’s lurking in the darkest corners. In that sense Peile has managed to deliver.
Right here we go. Susanna wants to find her father, she wanders the streets of 1970s Chelsea edging closer to escaping from her mother and her dreary boyfriend and landing a place at Oxford University.
But first there is satisfying the urge to find her father, the man who abandoned her as a child. She heads out to track him down and when she does she makes the choice of not revealing who she is. For the old lady killer this seems to be one love affair that he can’t believe is happening and he enters into it as a lucky lamb walking to the slaughter.
The slaughter it might well turn out to be as this can surely only end one way in trouble. it makes uncomfortable reading but the description of 1970s London is fantastically conveyed and the eye for character is spot on.
A review will follow on completion of the book…