The Books Interview: Lesley Glaister - A Cutting Edge in Sheffield Lesley Glaister's Suburban-Gothic Novels Delight and Disturb All at Once. Emma Hagestadt Met Her
Hagestadt, Emma, The Independent (London, England)
It is a bit of mystery why Kate Atkinson sells more books than Lesley Glaister. Her novels cover much the same territory, but Glaister is one of those women writers whom readers have either come across by accident (and gone on to become devoted fans), or have just plain never heard of. A writer of addictive emotional thrillers - as if Ruth Rendell had got hold of an AS Byatt novel and stripped out the digressive bits - she ought to be packing out the shelves in the local bookshop.
Glaister lives in Sheffield and, like York-based Kate Atkinson, is more likely to be found stoking up in a Betty's tearoom than schmoozing in the Groucho. A resident of Eccleshall, one of the city's posher addresses (complete with a Cafe Rouge and Botanical Gardens), Glaister has a hill- clinging home that still bears the traces of South Yorkshire soot. Sitting at her cosy kitchen table, dressed in a nifty scarlet fleece, this petite 42-year-old, with clear eyes and uptilted nose, looks exceptionally cheery - as writers of the darker kind of fiction often do.
January is an important month for Lesley Glaister. Not only does she have a new novel, Sheer Blue Bliss (Bloomsbury, pounds 15.99) and the paperback of her last book Easy Peasy, but Bloomsbury is republishing three of her best-known works: Honour Thy Father, Digging to Australia and Partial Eclipse. She's a little nervous at the prospect, but also thrilled: it must be every writer's dream to be so emphatically back in print. "I don't like the idea of other people knowing things about me that I don't know myself", she says of the reviewing process, but she does not mind the publicity razzmatazz - especially, she says, if the event involves a hotel with fluffy towels, and time to go shopping. Glaister's territory is suburban Gothic, but unlike Angela Carter or Margaret Atwood, she's not interested in folkloric excursions into fairy tale forests or the thornier thickets of feminist irony. Her stories, couched in humour and social observation, are firmly rooted in the domestic and mundane. Babies are dropped on floors, young women locked in attics and fathers murdered in their beds, but they are usually polishing off a Pot Noodle in between last breaths. She says that, "I hate it when a writer mentions a meal but doesn't tell you what was eaten". Her characters, in contrast, are always well- fed, well-bathed and sleep best between cotton sheets. An adopted Northerner, Glaister settled in Sheffield in her early twenties. Brought up in Suffolk, she's not that interested in talking about her childhood ("pretty normal") though she says that her last novel, Easy Peasy, was the closest she has come to autobiography. A voyage around a bad-tempered father, it tells how a daughter comes to terms with her parent's death and his secret past as a Japanese PoW. "What interests me is memory and the tricks that it plays," says Glaister. Her stories are often told from the point of view of a child, but intercut by the narrator's older self. It's a device that makes for a satisfyingly complete emotional landscape. Her first novel, Honour Thy Father, about four ageing sisters trapped in a remote Fenland house, uses the technique to great effect, alternating between their unhappy girlhood in turn-of-the century Norfolk and their even more bizarre present. "My imagination is fired off by the thought of someone full of experience, yet still living in the moment that they're in," she says. "People recast what happened to them, depending on what's happening now." Her yellow- toe-nailed old ladies (often sad, often lustful, usually hairless) don't so much regret their pasts as find it hard to decide on a final version. Sheer Blue Bliss is also told in flashbacks. Constance Benson is perhaps the author's most likeable old biddy so far. A reclusive portrait painter, diminutive Connie is in her eighties when she unexpectedly becomes the subject of a National Portrait Gallery retrospective. …