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Lucky Seven Interview: Irene Marques Chats with Open Book Toronto

irene marques 2In a recent Lucky Seven Interview with Open Book Toronto, poet and novelist Irene Marques talks about her newest book, My House is a Mansion. She discusses how the book came to be, the central questions it addresses, and offers her thoughts on the purpose of writing.

Irene Marques’ The Circular Incantation was published by Guernica Editions in Fall 2013.

Marques begins by explaining that she wrote My House is a Mansion right after her PhD disseration.

“I think after I finished my dissertation I wanted to engage in a type of writing that would step away from the restrictions of academic style and experiment with the literary form. Academic writing can be stifling and quite limiting… the novel allowed me to escape the rigidity of academic style and exercise my ability with the word and there is a beautiful freedom in this endeavour — a freedom that leads to growth and a certain spiritual vision and ontological expansion because we live and know and feel through language.”

She explains how the novel was put in motion for her by one phrase: “Ever since I remember being a woman, who thought of herself as a woman, and who was thought of as a woman, I have always felt that marriage was not something I would ever enter.”

She elaborates on how this is often the case in her writing: a single phrase or word acts as the starting point.

“I remember that I had in my mind a phrase, the first phrase of the novel that kept coming to me and I knew I had to take that phrase to places, explore it, give it what it was asking for… And then the second phrase came… And then the deluge could not be stopped… In fact, writing for me often starts this way: I have a phrase or a word that is constantly coming to me and I know that it wants to be fed, to become something bigger…”

Furthermore, Marques delves into the thematic concerns of the book, and explains how they developed.

“When I started writing the novel, I knew I wanted to explore issues related to love, feminism and women’s and men’s expectations in relationships — matters related to societal impositions and constructions of womanhood and manhood and how that can limit both men and women and the very experience of love, of what I envisage and imagine as love (I am an idealist, a romantic at heart). I also knew that I wanted to explore these themes through a transcultural approach by juxtaposing different societies, from Christian to Muslim to Buddhist, bringing in experiences from different continents… and also discuss issues related to race, class and colonization, matters that I also explored in my PhD dissertation and in my academic life.”

Nevertheless, she stresses that other ideas and themes did make their way into the book, and that “the very act of writing also took [her] into directions that [she] did not envisage at the beginning, which is always the case in writing… for many of us.”


She goes on to offer her opinion about what constitutes a great book, and what threatens great writing:

“I think a good book is a book that goes beyond what you already know and for that to happen you need experimentation with form and language, you need to get confused and you need to confuse. You need to engage yourself in an act of discovery, of discomfort, of entering and exploring the unknown. Toni Morrison said recently, in an interview given to CBC, that writing is an act of resolving something, an act that shows the growth of characters, it is a process of enlightenment. I agree with that. I will say though that there is (and especially in the Anglo-American world) an over-preoccupation with a writing that is tamed, comfortable and literal, and with a form and language that are easy to the reader and that is detrimental to writing and creates a sameness and a mono-culture that leads to literary poverty.”

Irene Marques is currently working on a piece of poetic prose that discusses the issue of love and a second novel in Portuguese about the Portuguese colonial wars in Africa.

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