E Lockhart expects the audiences at her Irish readings to ask about the fate of the canines in her young adult classic, We Were Liars, writes Áilín Quinlan
USUALLY, observes E. Lockhart, the author of cult classic We Were Liars, one of the first questions she gets from teenage fans is why the dogs died.
You’ll have to read her chilling, though best-selling book to find out why and how the doggies met their untimely end, bu, there’s no doubt it was a cruel, unusual, and, at least in the eyes of a large proportion of the best-selling author’s passionate young adult readership, heart-breaking and quite unnecessary.
Whether her Irish fans will want to talk to her about the dogs, or about other things remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — Waterstones staff in Cork are expecting an extremely large turnout for the arrival of E.Lockhart at the store at the end of the month.
She’s visiting Cork and a couple of days later, Dublin, to promote the release of the deluxe edition of We Were Liars — and also to preview her tenth, and upcoming book, described by her publishers as “a masterful suspense novel”, Genuine Fraud, due out in September.
For the Cork visit, there will be a conversation with mega-successful Irish teen author Claire Hennessy, but time will be put aside to allow the writer to converse with some of her legions of adolescent fans about the wonderful, but blisteringly-horrid story of family meltdown in We Were Liars.
She doesn’t actually try to get inside the adolescent mind, says Lockhart, now aged 50 and the mother of two teenage daughters (who, she confides, are as much of a mystery to her as any teenage daughters are to any mother.)
“Young adults are my target audience in the sense that that is who my publishers aim my books at,” she says, adding that she thinks about the teenage audience primarily in terms of trying to “respect the teenage experience and write about it with immediacy rather than with nostalgia or disdain, which is the way a lot of adult fiction treats any mention of teenagers.”
Although she initially wrote two books for adults under a different name at the beginning of her career, a series of editors suggested that she should write for teenagers:
“It’s a very natural fit for my voice,” she explains.
“I don’t know a lot of teenagers or work with them, and none of the things in these books happened to me!”
We Were Liars is beautifully written — it comes as no great shock to learn that E. Lockart has a doctorate in English literature from Columbia University, though the fact that her field was the 19th century British novel is a tad surprising, given the book’s setting in a 21st century super-rich family.
The story is based, as the New York Times put it, around a patrician New England clan which decamps to its private island off Martha’s Vineyard for the summer. The Sinclair family is extremely rich; its members very beautiful.
They attend the best private schools, have so many servants that not only does the help have its own private quarters and dock on the island; the grand-children don’t even know their names.
The Sinclairs are also brittle, dishonest and extremely dysfunctional. The novel, with its overbearing grandfather and three greedy, squabbling adult daughters, has strong overtones of King Lear.
However another theme — that of a person having one foot in a particular world and the other outside it — appeals strongly to Lockhart. It is born out of her past as an extremely high-achieving scholarship student:
“I grew up as a scholarship student at elite educational institutions,” she explains. She attended both a high-priced private school and the shatteringly expensive Vassar College, both on scholarship.
“This means that my family paid very little for a very expensive education, yet the people around me could afford this very expensive education,” she says.
Expensive it certainly is — it costs more than €50,000 a year to attend Vassar nowadays, she points out.
“It’s not that I know people who owned private islands, but what interesting for me about We Were Liars is that Gat (a prominent character in the book) has one foot in and one foot out of this world.
“I was interested in the setting of the private island, because a small isolated location like this exerts pressure on people when they are in one place.
And of course, there’s all that moolah:
“The theme of the American dream, of wealth and entitlement is one that moves through Liars and into my forthcoming novel Genuine Fraud.
“It’s the story of two young women who look enough alike to share a passport — they have a very intense and eventually toxic friendship.
“One is an heiress who is also adopted and therefore her relationship to her adoptive family is complicated.
“Both of them are in their late teens and escaping from their family of origin and looking to create a new home and new identity.”
She’s looking forward to coming to Ireland she says — and to chatting with her young Irish fans:
“One thing that has been lovely for me is that young people come to a signing with a poem or a piece of art they have done about We Were Liars and that is really lovely.”
They don’t do that at adult signings she observes pithily.
“I’m very excited to get back to Ireland — I’ve been here twice already in the last few years.”
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