He’d come to France to finish his next novel, Presto Change-O, which, he’d said in several interviews, was about a Bernie Madoff-like investment adviser.
Lucien Minor, known as Lucy, leaves his village to take a position as the “undermajordomo” – think assistant butler – in the mysterious Castle Von Aux, some ways away. (You can draw a direct line between the castle and the artists’ residence where deWitt resided in Paris – called the Récollets, it was built in 1603, and is probably haunted: “Doing the laundry, which was in the deep, deep basement, was terrifying,” says deWitt. “I would make my son come down with me. I was protecting him, but I needed another body there.”)
The novel takes place in an unnamed, probably European country – think Austria, pushed further east on the map – during an unnamed period that could be any time between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, and is stuffed with an odd assortment of major minor characters, including a pair of thieves, a group of amorous aristocrats and a man with the nasty habit of feasting on the flesh of small rodents.
“Love leaves us like luck leaves us.” There is, after all, much unrequited love in the novel; characters pine after one another, fall in love with one another and are abandoned by one another, not necessarily in that order. He thinks about it for a moment.
And I think that’s true what the Baron says. I think often times there is a limit to love, much in the way there’s a limit to luck. At a certain point you push it too far, or you ask too much of it, and it can’t necessarily stand up to what you want of it, what you expect of it.
Could we have done better? Are we good people? Are we bad people? It’s not so much that I’m keen to fill my fiction with characters like this as [it is] my life in general. I’m not interested in alpha characters. To me, that’s the dullest thing in the world – a confident man. If you’re not riddled with doubt, you’ve probably done something wrong.”
The customs agent was just completely blown away and knew what the Booker Prize was. I just thought, ‘What weird world am I in, that a customs agent is aware of a literary prize?’ And it began to sink in. I remember that week in London, it was just something else. This was not a reading at a local bookstore. The cab drivers knew about it. It was in the newspapers every day. There was a scandal attached to the prize that year because the books were too readable. And this was all so foreign to me. … It was all beyond my realm of experience, so you just hold your breath and go along with it.”
My opinion: I like the whole part about luck and love. I put that into my inspirational quotes.
Jun. 19, 2017 "Caught in the middle": Today I found this article by Michael Bourne in the Globe and Mail:
For much of its length, Be Ready for the Lightning pinballs between the hostage scene on the bus, all jump-cuts and spattered blood, and Veda’s life in Vancouver, rendered in rich, saturated colours and achingly slow dissolves. This narrative strategy can feel a touch manipulative, as though O’Connell were goosing a sometimes meandering coming-of-age tale with an HBO-ready crime drama to keep readers from reaching for the remote.
“I’m a little bit pretty,” Veda says of herself. “A little bit, not a lot. You’re not supposed to say things like that, but you can’t be a girl and not be aware at least roughly how pretty or how not pretty you are, because people are always talking about it. They always want to point it out to you, like it’s a public service. You’re actually kind of pretty, you know. Like it’s some big favour, the concession.”
Why does she put up with feckless Ted’s constant cheating? Why must she always cover for Conrad, patching his broken face and hiding his compulsion for violence from their worried parents? “I always thought,” Veda tells us, “I was the sort of person who, if there was a war, would hide and see who won the fight. Gutless.”
Nothing really happens in this small gem of a scene. No great revelations are unearthed, but the scene is moving because these women are friends, and when one of them is hurting, the other is there to hear her, to listen.
What screens can’t do is let us in on the sad, funny, self-lacerating inner monologue of a thirtyish girl becoming, almost against her own will, a grown woman.
Be Ready for the Lightning does these things extraordinarily well, when it isn’t busy flipping the channel to must-watch TV.