Author Ellen Feldman talks about Next to Love, our November Book of the Month, Weds 30 Nov, from 9pm

(82 Posts)

November's Book of the Month is Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, who was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for her last novel Scottsboro. Babe, Millie, and Grace are friends since childhood, living in a small Virginian town and waiting for news of their men who have gone to fight at D-Day.  As the war drags on, and when peace breaks out, they experience changes that move them in directions they never dreamed possible.  The women lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America - from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which women's rights, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities and uncertainties.

The kind folk at Macmillan have 50 free copies to give away - just email your name and address to promotions@macmillan.co.uk, putting Mumsnet/Next to Love in the Subject Bar.

But if you're not lucky enough to get one of those, don't forget you can get your paperback or Kindle e-book here

We are thrilled that Ellen will be chatting to us about Next to Love and all her other books on Wednesday 30 November 9-10 pm. Look forward to seeing you then.

If you'd like to find out more about Ellen Feldman and Next to Love, visit our Book of the Month page.

EllenFeldman Thu 01-Dec-11 00:31:40

TillyBookClub

Its been such an enlightening evening - thanks to everyone for your questions.

Ellen, thank you so much for coming on tonight. Your answers have illuminated the novel, and given us even more to think about. I have learnt a huge amount, both through reading the book and hearing you talk about it.

Good luck with the cold war novel, I'm looking forward to reading it. Please come back some day and tell us about it!

Many thanks again...

Thanks to you, Tilly, for setting up the chat, and to all of you who participated for making it such fun and so challenging.

Its been such an enlightening evening - thanks to everyone for your questions.

Ellen, thank you so much for coming on tonight. Your answers have illuminated the novel, and given us even more to think about. I have learnt a huge amount, both through reading the book and hearing you talk about it.

Good luck with the cold war novel, I'm looking forward to reading it. Please come back some day and tell us about it!

Many thanks again...

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 22:01:59

TillyBookClub

And thank you for the description of aftereffects. One of my favourite moments in the book is when Babe makes the Cordon Bleu Poulet, it taste like Chicken hash and Claude sweetly says 'Its good' and she says ''not two and a half hours good'. That rang a large bell with me.

Yes, one of my favorite moments too.

Thanks, Tilly, this was great.

And thank you for the description of aftereffects. One of my favourite moments in the book is when Babe makes the Cordon Bleu Poulet, it taste like Chicken hash and Claude sweetly says 'Its good' and she says ''not two and a half hours good'. That rang a large bell with me.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 22:00:39

southlondonlady

Thanks, the essay is very interesting, especially about the fashion and food industries. Have really enjoyed all the Q&As this evening.

I'm the one who should say thanks. It was a great experience.

NYmomma Wed 30-Nov-11 21:59:53

Thank you for all of that information, Ellen. It's beyond fascinating. I have to say that I was seething when Millie said that she felt badly for Claude -- that he has to put the potatoes in the oven or turn on the grill because Babe was still at work. Millie really believed that a wife shouldn't work, but I also thought this was the new Millie. I could see that money -- because of Al's business acumen -- changes her. All of the women change, but I was disappointed a little bit in Millie. I didn't like that she pitied her friend, though I suppose this sentiment is of the time. I loved how Al got King's house, though.

southlondonlady Wed 30-Nov-11 21:59:12

Thanks, the essay is very interesting, especially about the fashion and food industries. Have really enjoyed all the Q&As this evening.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:58:27

TillyBookClub

We've got ten minutes left, so time for just a couple more questions.

Can I quickly ask what you are working on right now?

I'm working on a novel set against the cultural cold war of the 1950s and 60s. It's a story of a marriage and a country betrayed.

Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm and your excellent and thought-provoking questions. You're a fabulous audience!

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:56:52

southlondonlady

Thanks for answering my question! What Babe goes through and also her character - she is the most modern thinker in many ways - serves to highlight how different the world was for women at that time. Was that intentional?

Loved Scottsboro too so your other one is next on my list!

It was entirely intentional. The war changed the lives of many women -- gave them freedom, jobs, income -- but after the war they were supposed to go back to their old lives. Some were happy to; others less so. But as I said in the long essay I just posted, the women who made the feminist revolution of the 1970s were the daughters of the women who went out to work in the 1940s. They just couldn't get the genii back in the bottle.

So glad you loved Scottsboro too.

We've got ten minutes left, so time for just a couple more questions.

Can I quickly ask what you are working on right now?

beachhutbetty Wed 30-Nov-11 21:55:15

Ellen, thanks very much for the further information about the after effects of World War II on American women.
I've loved participating in this webchat (first time I've done anything like this, although I have attended a book club in real life)! It's been fascinating to read other people's questions and see your replies.
This book, the characters and their experiences will stay with me for a long time!

southlondonlady Wed 30-Nov-11 21:54:18

Thanks for answering my question! What Babe goes through and also her character - she is the most modern thinker in many ways - serves to highlight how different the world was for women at that time. Was that intentional?

Loved Scottsboro too so your other one is next on my list!

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:49:43

TillyBookClub

Interesting to hear you love Babe best: I got that feeling quite strongly!

Did you intentionally make her the non-widow because you didn't want her story with Claude to end? Had you played about with swapping alternative futures for each woman?

(I should add that I was more fond of the Babe/Claude duo than either Charlie/Grace or Pete/Millie.)

The reason Babe was not widowed was because I wanted to explore the two extreme reactions to losing a husband, based on the women's stories I'd heard, and represented by Grace and Millie. I didn't want all three of them widowed, and I did want to explore what it was like for the men who came home.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:47:56

Since there seems to be a bit of a lull in the questions, I'm going to post something about the aftereffects of the war on women. Please keep asking questions, but in case anyone is interested later.
The party line during and after World War II was that the Rosie the Riveters, government girls, and other women who took over men’s jobs could not wait to hand them back to returning veterans and go home to their cooking, cleaning, and sewing. But at the war’s end, many of the women were far from eager to relinquish their work. They had enjoyed making their own decisions and their own money. It was the WWII riff on World World War I song, “How ya’ gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree.”
But sixteen million men were taking off their uniforms and looking for work and the dissatisfaction of the women was nothing compared to the possibility of mass unemployment and social unrest. However, a few industries that catered to women, such as fashion and food, recognized a problem and saw opportunity in the solution.
The fashion industry fired the first salvo. While the trousers and short skirts of wartime encouraged women to stride and reach, Dior’s New Look was intended to keep them in place. Who could move in those tight bodices, cinched waists, and yards and yards of long full skirts?
The women’s service magazines also got into the picture. During the war, women who were on an assembly line or in an office all day were still expected to get dinner on the table each evening. With that in mind, the March, 1944, issue of Good Housekeeping featured recipes illustrated with twin clocks showing start and finish times. After the war, the idea was to keep a woman in the kitchen for as long as possible. A 1950 dinner recipe in the same magazine begins preparations right after breakfast. Similarly, the dish that opens Babe’s eyes in the novel, which comes from an actual cookbook of the early postwar years, calls for thirty-two ingredients.
But the female genii who had escaped from the bottle could not be forced back in. It is no accident that the feminist revolution of the seventies was made by the daughters of the women who went out to work in the forties.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes wrought by the war was America’s newfound prosperity. The huge industrial machine that had geared up to supply the war could now turn to making products for peacetime. Meanwhile, the G.I. Bill made it possible for veterans who had never dreamed they’d own their own homes, or start their own businesses, or go to college to do just that. Add to that the growth of unions, and suddenly America had a burgeoning middle class with money and, starting in the fifties, credit cards, in its pockets. Suddenly America was awash in houses and cars and washing machines and dishwashers and televisions and cameras and pressure cookers and long playing records and all sorts of things American’s never knew they needed. But were they happy? This leads to another post-war change.
Plastic surgery as a medical specialty began during WWI and came of age during WWII. After the war, there was suddenly an army of well trained surgeons with no patients. There was also a population with discretionary income. It was a marriage made in heaven. The war ended up transforming not only the way we live but the way we look.

Interesting to hear you love Babe best: I got that feeling quite strongly!

Did you intentionally make her the non-widow because you didn't want her story with Claude to end? Had you played about with swapping alternative futures for each woman?

(I should add that I was more fond of the Babe/Claude duo than either Charlie/Grace or Pete/Millie.)

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:45:27

NYmomma

Can I ask one more question about the prewriting? Did you know everything that was going to happen before you started the book? For example, did you know that Claude & Babe wouldn't have children & that Babe would become an activist? Did you know what Jack would do at the end of the book? (I don't want to give it away for those who haven't finished.) Did you know how Amy would turn out?

Thanks so much for answering all of these questions. I'm so enjoying gaining more insight into your truly beautiful book.

Thanks to all of you for your generosity about the book. I knew some of the things you mention, but not all. I knew how Amy would turn out, and Jack too, and had some ideas about Babe, but not that they wouldn't have children or some other details. I wasn't sure whether Grace would have an affair with Mac or not until I got to know her. I think that's the writing process. We don't really know our characters when we start out, and we only plumb their depths as we write.

NYmomma Wed 30-Nov-11 21:41:45

Can I ask one more question about the prewriting? Did you know everything that was going to happen before you started the book? For example, did you know that Claude & Babe wouldn't have children & that Babe would become an activist? Did you know what Jack would do at the end of the book? (I don't want to give it away for those who haven't finished.) Did you know how Amy would turn out?

Thanks so much for answering all of these questions. I'm so enjoying gaining more insight into your truly beautiful book.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:38:20

TillyBookClub

The small, killer details in the book are wonderful (like Babe's discovery of the PRO Kit and the pack of condoms with two missing). Whilst reading, I kept thinking 'I wish I'd had this book at school, then I would have understood the war and it's aftermath far better'... Fiction worms it's way into your head and sticks far better than textbooks.

Do you get approached by history teachers/students saying the same thing? Do you teach/have you ever taught any subject?

In reverse order, I have taught writing, which everyone knows cannot be taught.

Historians are often suspicious of me, because I'm a novelist, so with each book I've had to prove myself -- that I've done the research, that I'm not misrepresenting or romanticizing, etc. But one of the great joys is when someone who has lived through what I've written about tells me I got it right. I've received lots of e-mail from wives who lived through the war thanking me for writing the book, and even a man who fought in it. Similarly, with Scottsboro, an African-American lawyer told me he had always known about the case, but he'd never really felt it in his blood. These are the things writers live for.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:34:50

icannotfly

Hi Ellen, I have no questions as I did not quiet finish the book (50 pages to go). I've enjoyed it so far! I'm from Eastern Europe where the effects of WW2 are still present. I'm thinking about my grandmothers while reading it - I might like them more now smile Thank you for that!

If I can make you like your grandmothers, who obviously suffered through a great deal in Eastern Europe, better, I am one happy writer. Thank you.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:33:37

gailforce1

Hi Ellen
Loved Next to Love and will be giving copies as Christmas pressies. I am half way through Scottsboro and am engrossed. I believe that you have written two other books - can you tells us a little about them please?

Scottsboro is a fictional account of a heinous chapter in recent American history. Nine young African-American men were tried and sentenced to the electric chair, repeatedly, for rapes that never occurred. But one of the most interesting aspects of the case, and one that comes in some ways to dominate the book, is the story of the poor semi-literate white girl, who cried rape, then recanted, then cried rape again, and recanted again, and so it went.

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is about the aftermath of the Holocaust in America. It posits that Peter, the boy who was in the secret annex with Anne, survives, comes to America, realizes the American dream, and is haunted by his secrets for the rest of his life. The odd thing is that after I wrote the book, I found many people who had lived such a story.

Lucy, the story of Franklin Roosevelt and the great love of his life, Lucy Mercer, has not yet been published in the UK, though I'm hoping it will be. A few weeks ago, BBC4 broadcast a short story connected to the novel.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:29:00

champagnesupernova

THanks for answering my question, Ellen
Can i ask another cheeky one, I hadn't read any of your work before -which book of yours should I read next?

Not cheeky at all. The two other books that are out in the UK are Scottsboro and The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank. I love them both -- once again they're all my children -- but I suppose Scottsboro, because that was the one that was shortlisted for the Orange.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:26:53

southlondonlady

Hello, agree with others that this is a fascinating book. I found the part about the women following their men to the camps really interesting, I hadn't heard about this before. How did you research it, and was violence towards the women common? I found the rape scene almost unbearable to read.

I found the rape scene almost unbearable to write, and I have a male friend who was undone by it. I'm not suggesting that American during the war was awash in sexual violence, but rape is, of course, very much a part of war, mostly in war zones, but you can't send millions of young men away from home, strip them of everything familiar, and tell them they stand a good chance of dying without turning up some nasty behavior. In one of the memoirs I read by a young woman who followed her husband to the camps, as many did, though the government asked them not to, she is warned by an older wife to be careful getting in taxis or letting a strange man lead her to someplace where he says he knows she can find a room because of rape.

The small, killer details in the book are wonderful (like Babe's discovery of the PRO Kit and the pack of condoms with two missing). Whilst reading, I kept thinking 'I wish I'd had this book at school, then I would have understood the war and it's aftermath far better'... Fiction worms it's way into your head and sticks far better than textbooks.

Do you get approached by history teachers/students saying the same thing? Do you teach/have you ever taught any subject?

icannotfly Wed 30-Nov-11 21:23:46

Hi Ellen, I have no questions as I did not quiet finish the book (50 pages to go). I've enjoyed it so far! I'm from Eastern Europe where the effects of WW2 are still present. I'm thinking about my grandmothers while reading it - I might like them more now smile Thank you for that!

gailforce1 Wed 30-Nov-11 21:23:03

Hi Ellen
Loved Next to Love and will be giving copies as Christmas pressies. I am half way through Scottsboro and am engrossed. I believe that you have written two other books - can you tells us a little about them please?

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