AM Homes answers your questions about prize winning novel MAY WE BE FORGIVEN

(49 Posts)
RebeccaSMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Oct-13 16:05:42

Winner of the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes is a darkly comic satire on contemporary America and our November Book of the Month.

Harold Silver, a Nixon-obsessed history professor, finds himself in charge of two adolescents when his bullying brother, George, is locked up in a mental institute having killed his wife (who was in bed with Harold at the time).

Following scenes of adultery, a fatal car accident and violent murder, Harold embarks on a weird and wonderful voyage of self-discovery, encompassing diverse elements of surreal American suburban life. Despite the horrific events that occurred, a messy yet satisfying type of life begins to grow around Harold, quite distinct from the 'ideal' of the American Dream.

This book is not for the faint hearted, yet it could also be one of the most laugh-out-loud funny books you?ll read this year.

Granta has 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours go to the book of the month page. We?ll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that AM Homes will be joining us and answering questions about May We Be Forgiven, her writing career and her previous novels on Tuesday 3 December. So please feel free to discuss the book on the thread throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and come and chat to A M Homes live, Tues 3 Dec at 9-10pm.

*STOP PRESS*

Sadly, due to unforseen scriptwriting commitments, AM Homes is unable to join us live next Tuesday for the webchat, but she will be answering all your questions in an emailed Q&A.

Please post all your author questions up here before 10pm on Tuesday 4th December, and I will then send the messages on to the author. We'll post her answers the following week.

edwarv29 Mon 03-Feb-14 18:49:37

I am reading this book now thanks for my copy so far im finding it amusing Im half way through will give a review when im finished .

payney954 Wed 11-Dec-13 17:36:20

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:30:44

And here are my answers to questions from Mumsnet's TillyBookClub

Q: What childhood book most inspired you?


A: I was always a big fan of Harold Pinter and Edward Albee.

Q: What would be the first piece of advice to anyone attempting to write fiction?

A: Write every day and remember that your writing mind and your editing mind, while located in the same head—are two different things.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:25:46

sallyc06

I Love this book, its fantastic, what inspired you and gave you the idea for the story?

The joke is Zadie Smith inspired me. She asked me to write a short story for The Book of Other People and the idea was that it should have a strong character. I’d been thinking a lot about brothers, about a kind of Cain and Abel relationship between siblings and when thinking about a story for Zadie thought—I’ll start there, two angry brothers –that’s a good way into character. And seven years and 700 pages later I finished.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:24:34

defineme

I adored this book: not much makes me laugh out loud and I did many times with this book. I've just bought it as a gift for my brother because he needs cheering up and has a dark sense of humour. I honestly found it life affirming; awful things happened yet wonderful things did too.
I had similar feelings about the narrative as I did about 'The Slap' because it was people in hideous close up and then there was hope, albeit not in a form we instantly recognized, with the young people.

I would like to know how do you map out such an expansive plot with so many characters? Do you have diagrams on your wall or spread sheets?

I'd also like to know if any real families inspired your idea of the family that Harry creates by the end of the novel?

No real families were harmed in the writing of this book….I work from my imagination so while bits and pieces may ring true of people I know—I really make it all up. And I take a lot of notes—so as I'm working I may jot down things that will happen 100 pages further in—and at a certain point when I have several hundred pages—I do make a kind of chart or list of characters, scenes, and what’s happening just so I can keep track of it all.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:23:05

BennyB

I LOVED the book which I read a few months ago. Your writing style came alive to me immediately and put me in mind of Saul Bellow, my all-time favourite author. I wonder if you have been compared to him before? Is he an influence in your work? What is your view of his writing?

Bellow is a wonderful American writer and yes an influence along with Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Richard Yates (My favourite) and John Cheever.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:21:29

ireadnovels

I have read May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I enjoyed the story so much. I would like to know what gave A.M. Homes the idea to write about Harry's adulterous kiss and Harry meeting other women. I get the impression Harry was lonely after his wife wanted a divorce.

I wanted Harry to be a reflection of modern man—and to use the internet to explore a world that was not available to him as a married man, and which didn't exist earlier in his life. As you see Harry dives right in—and well almost drowns in it all…. I'm fascinated by the intersection right now of human daily life and the internet and how/why people think of dating as posting photos of your privates etc… I find it sad, horrifying, funny and very revealing—and that’s just for starters.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:19:49

Clawdy

I have just finished reading this for our book group,and found it gripping and fascinating,especially the Richard Nixon references! My question is this : How much of the storyline about the undiscovered short stories was true? And what did Julie Nixon Eisenhower say about the book? So glad I've got the chance to ask you!

There are many facts about Nixon in the book, including some interesting threads that many ‘conspiracy theorists’ believe to be true—those are the ideas presented by the man Harry meets in the elevator. The Nixon short stories are all a work of my imagination—but based on information about Nixon’s life, childhood, his time living in New York and working for a law firm.

I didn't hear from Julie Nixon Eisenhower (Yet)

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:17:25

PanicMode

It's one of the most original books I've read for a while, and I did enjoy the black humour in it, but found its view of American surburbia very depressing.

I'd like to ask at what point the book became a novel, rather than a short story? It seems that it starts like a bullet train, with so much happening, as if it's a short story or novella but then it slows down so much and begins to meander, more as though it became a longer work than was originally anticpated.

As a writer, I wanted to maintain the pace, compression, feeling of a short story throughout, but also take advantage of the novel’s ability to meander, to digress—ie the part where George is sent off into the woods, and some other sections… so as the story unfolds, it relaxes a bit—also as Harry gets to know himself a bit better, we slow down and spend more time with him…..

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:15:47

sirendippity

A rollercoaster of events that eventually come full circle. The main character is blank to start with and gradually develops into a social being by the end -without really understanding how he got there. There are lots of funny scenes, dialogue exchanges and a strong thread of the limitations of the physical body which constantly undercuts the possibility of developing any moral or sentimental tone.

Harry is a man who (lots & lots of) things just happen to, he's an example/ or a vehicle for lots of unconnected ideas and plot devices rather than a character. He doesn't judge anything (least of all himself) but just accepts the fantastical things that happen. He picks up women, and a whole new family community as he sheds his former life. There are no financial limitations in the story which does enable him to be completely free and the events to get progressively fantastical.

The bits when the writer lost me were the pages and pages about Harry's fascination with Nixon - these needed cutting down.

This book fizzes with ideas and hyperbole - the best thing to do is just go along for the ride. If you're getting a bit tired of one plot strand or character - don't worry there'll be lots of others coming along in a few pages.

A question for a m holmes - What did Harry look like and why did he get so much sex?!

Ah, many people ask that. There aren't that many available men in the suburbs during the day—so there he was surrounded by housewives…. Lucky Harry.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:14:34

MrsSquirrel

The way Harry doesn't involve himself in the demise of his marriage really rang true with me, because my friend's xh was just the same during their divorce. Couldn't cope, felt guilty, and so did nothing.

I LOVED all of the Nixon stuff. What gave you the idea of linking up Nixon with forgiveness?

I think Nixon desperately wanted to be forgiven by the American people, he was such a complex man—and really lost track of right and wrong a number of times…. So there’s that thread—and also Nixon was a bitter man—as is George—and what happens if a person hangs onto anger, or bitterness is they remain stuck in those feelings, but if one forgives—one is liberated—it doesn't mean you forget or repeat the mistake, but you let it go as best you can and get on with things.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:13:19

Hullygully

Hello AM, I have read all your books and I love you very much.

Some are considerably grimmer than others, and I note similar themes running through them. This Book Will Save Your Life is a bit jollier, did something nice happen to you around then? And, do you utterly despair of human beings? I do.

Both This Book Will Save Your Life and May We Be Forgiven were written post the 9-11 attacks when I spent a lot of time thinking about our responsibility to and for each other. I also was thinking about the need to think optimistically and write optimistically when living in a time that is not inherently optimistic! All that to say—I found it much easier to write books that go down in emotion that are depressing and much much harder to write books in which there is a turn—a sense of hope… Curious, how much literature is depressing…now I know why.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:09:17

BouncingJellyfish

This book is the reason I've joined a book club- to discover brilliant books that I wouldn't normally choose for myself. Thoroughly enjoyed this book and by the end I really loved Harry, and was really rooting for him. Very well written and very funny in places. Are you as obsessed with Nixon as Harry was, and what/who were your inspirations for this story?

I find Nixon fascinating—there are many reasons which I've written and spoke about… among them the fact that the special files seized when he left office are still slowly being released—so it is an evolving presidency, an ‘open’ history—and the impact of Nixon is part of our every day life—China now owns more US debt than any other country—before Nixon went to China—we had no engagement with them. He also created an interesting trade agreement regarding the amount of textiles that can be imported from any given country-which spurred production in some far away places like Bangladesh etc. My inspirations, come from contemporary culture, I’m interested in who we are as people, how we’re evolving and how technology impacts human emotion, everyday life etc.

AMHomes Mon 09-Dec-13 16:07:05

sherazade

*spoiler alert*
This book brought out mixed emotions, but most frequent was the frustration at the disconnection, the yawning gap between groups of people: young and old, men and women, rich and poor, parents and their children. Until the grand finale when they all exist harmoniously in the White Man's melting pot. I'm intrigued to know a few things:

1. The book reminded me so much of plays by Harold Pinter. Is he your inspiration or was it coincedential? The fast unfolding of random events that spiral out of control often stemming from and leading to acts of violence, lack of conscience that drives foward the main characters, and their inability (or unwillingness) to reflect meaningfully on their own/others actions that results in disaster?

2. How did Harold manage so seamlessly to stabilise and care for a boy with ADHD and ASD?

3. Harold's period of relative insanity, in the middle of the book, made me start to wonder if indeed Harold was George ! Are the characters intended to overlap?

4. Harold finally lets go of George at the end of the book and that is why he is able to move on (I think!). George's period in the jungle, where Harold suffers from paranoia, flashbacks form his past and present, mirrors George's mindless roaming in the wild where he is uncontained. when George is transferred to a more 'traditional' institution, Harold is able to detoxify himself from a traumatic life that was spoilt by George by compartmentalising George mentally . Is this what the witch doctor in Africa was trying to rid Harold from?

5. Do you think that the following are stereotypes?:
The unfeeling, childless Chinese wife who is highly successful with little human emotion
The overweight hispanic child with ADHD and ASD who seems to overcome all his problems and even lose weight when he moves into a white home

6. Which of these was Jane- a loving mother who was dearly loved and missed by her doting children, or a woman so detached from her children that she sent them to boarding school and mistook their genius for learning disabilities because she couldn't cope with them?

1. Very good question. Yes as per the first question, Harold Pinter’s work has always been a huge influence, his ability to use a single line to say so many things and to cut to the bone with language that is at once simple and so strong.
Re all the random events—we now live in a world of random events—and I think are starting to see how those events, a culture of violence, spurs more violence, so I'm leaning towards a culture of kindness, of forgiveness.

2. I think what we discover is that Harold—who has been a teacher for his whole adult life—is actually a good parent, a natural parent, and is able to put the needs of the children above his own—most of the time. And he comes to feel for the boy in a very genuine way.

3. Yes they are meant to overlap—from the very beginning the question is who is the crazy one—and the interweave of violence, competition etc. Harold sleeps with George’s wife—and when George comes home—he doesn't kill his brother—he kills his wife (that’s the biggest clue to how central the sibling relationship is) Harold then moves into George’s home, wears his clothing, raises his children, watches porn on his computer etc.

4. A complicated question and I'm not entirely sure what you’re getting at—the simple answer is that Harold is able to move on in the end—because he’s built himself a life and a family and feels a sense of both attachment and obligation in the world. When the book begins Harold is someone who has spent his life—waiting for life to begin—he comes to realize that he is the architect of his own destiny—what he’s getting rid of in Africa is the anger, the resentment, the sense that he’s failed…..(although none of it is meant as specifically as that—it’s meant as a cleanse, a new beginning…)

5. No I don’t think they are stereotypes—I don’t know of a “stereotypical Chinese wife…” or a “Hispanic stereotype” where a child whose family is killed moves into a new (white) home and loses weight. I spend a lot of time developing characters and stories which feel organic to the world I'm writing about—more interesting to me is the issue of adoption and adaptation for immigrants of all kinds—you may have noticed there are a lot of Chinese people in the book—and in some ways that’s a specific reference to Richard Nixon opening US/China relations.

6.My sense was that part of why Jane sent her children away to school was that her husband, George was volatile and couldn't be counted on to provide a safe/stable environment. After Jane is dead and George is sent away—we see the children unfold—and truly become themselves. I think Jane was trying her best to protect them—unfortunately she didn't protect herself.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 09-Dec-13 15:59:44

We are about to post up the answers to your questions that AM Homes emailed over to us....

ktlq Wed 04-Dec-13 19:54:49

Hello,
I'm enjoying this book so much but I've not quite reached the end yet. The times I've laughed out loud are countless. Do you think it's hard to be humorous in fiction? Your style reminds me of John Irving who also uses wit and shocks to surprise and entertain. He's my favourite author but now I'm definitely going to read all your novels.

Also, what about the fact your lead character is a man. Do you think men are more prone to humorous acts/being witty then women? Was it hard to find your male voice?

Thanks again Mumsnet Bookclub, this book has been a joy.

Hi, just finished this and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the dialogue was so real - do you see it being used as the basis for a screenplay at some point?

This is the first novel of yours that I have read, but I will definitely read more. Your memoir also looks fascinating.

Which authors do you admire?

sallyc06 Tue 03-Dec-13 07:02:02

I Love this book, its fantastic, what inspired you and gave you the idea for the story?

Procrastreation Tue 03-Dec-13 05:50:06

Oooh - a bit shabby to cancel.

Poor diary management gives me angry - it's always disrespectful.

defineme Mon 02-Dec-13 23:26:22

I adored this book: not much makes me laugh out loud and I did many times with this book. I've just bought it as a gift for my brother because he needs cheering up and has a dark sense of humour. I honestly found it life affirming; awful things happened yet wonderful things did too.
I had similar feelings about the narrative as I did about 'The Slap' because it was people in hideous close up and then there was hope, albeit not in a form we instantly recognized, with the young people.

I would like to know how do you map out such an expansive plot with so many characters? Do you have diagrams on your wall or spread sheets?

I'd also like to know if any real families inspired your idea of the family that Harry creates by the end of the novel?

mgrass Mon 02-Dec-13 21:44:24

Thank you very much for my copy of this book. It is my first book by A.M.Homes. It is not at all my usual read as I generally go for crime novels and thrillers. However, I enjoyed this well-detailed novel as something completely different. A unusual, humorous story, rather far-fetched at times but compelling none-the-less. Quite a roller-coaster of a story, particularly in the first half which kept me gripped until the end. Well portrayed, fascinating characters, who the reader finds likeable despite many flaws.

BennyB Mon 02-Dec-13 20:26:34

I LOVED the book which I read a few months ago. Your writing style came alive to me immediately and put me in mind of Saul Bellow, my all-time favourite author. I wonder if you have been compared to him before? Is he an influence in your work? What is your view of his writing?

ireadnovels Mon 02-Dec-13 19:57:28

I have read May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I enjoyed the story so much. I would like to know what gave A.M. Homes the idea to write about Harry's adulterous kiss and Harry meeting other women. I get the impression Harry was lonely after his wife wanted a divorce.

overtheHillsandcomingtostay Mon 02-Dec-13 19:23:45

Just finished this wonderful book and immediately went back to the first page when I realised that a whole year had gone by. I agree that this is not a book I would have picked up to read so am very grateful for a free copy and I shall certainly read all A M Homes books in future and catch up on previous ones.
I think at times the author didn't know which direction to go in but this reflected Harold's (sometimes) confused thinking. I grew to like him very much and think he did a brilliant "job" with the children. IMO Harold started out as an incredibly lonely chap but by the end was loved and appreciated by his "new" family group and would never be lonely again. Hope so. Thanks for a stimulating read and now feel I would like to celebrate Thanksgiving too!

Clawdy Mon 02-Dec-13 19:05:29

I have just finished reading this for our book group,and found it gripping and fascinating,especially the Richard Nixon references! My question is this : How much of the storyline about the undiscovered short stories was true? And what did Julie Nixon Eisenhower say about the book? So glad I've got the chance to ask you!

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