Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to the author of The Margot Affair (out now in paperback), Sanaë Lemoine.
Book Marks: Favorite re-read?
Sanaë Lemoine: These two short stories by Lydia Davis: “The Mother” for its delightful darkness and “St. Martin” for the onion pie.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
SL: One very generous reviewer mentioned Ian McEwan’s Atonement for the imaginative teenager and Rachel Cusk for the discursive storytelling, and although I didn’t see these parallels as I wrote my novel, in retrospect, they make sense. Because The Margot Affair is narrated by a seventeen-year-old girl, it was important that I capture her young voice, a combination of rash naïveté and precocious wisdom. At the heart of my novel is a difficult mother-daughter relationship. For all of this, I drew inspiration from The Lover by Marguerite Duras, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, and Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa. (It’s hard to choose just one!)
BM: A book that blew your mind?
SL: Veronica by Mary Gaitskill.
BM: Last book you read?
SL: Justine by Forsyth Harmon, an illustrated novel that was published in early March. It centers on an intense friendship between two teenage girls during the summer of 1999. I loved it so much and know it’s a book I’ll return to time and again.
BM: A book that made you cry?
SL: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. There’s a very tender relationship between the narrator, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Tokyo, and her Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother, whom she affectionately calls Old Jiko. I think it deeply moved me because I was reminded of my Japanese mother, who practices Zen Buddhism and often sends me texts that sound like meditative teachings. Like Old Jiko, she “does everything really really slowly.”
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
SL: The Shame by Makenna Goodman. If you haven’t read it yet, run to a bookstore or library and find a copy! I devoured this novel in two sittings. I don’t want to spoil its brilliance—all I’ll say is that it has one of the most memorable dinner-party scenes featuring a filet mignon.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
SL: The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis. It is published by Phaidon, where I worked as a cookbook editor. The book makes for a beautiful gift with its stunning photography and design, but what I love most is how seamlessly the author weaves together storytelling and food.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
SL: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa, a slim novel that was published in English in 2010. Whenever I recommend it, I’m surprised that no one seems to have heard of it. It’s a strange, remarkable book that reflects Ogawa’s gift for creating an eerie and vivid world through her deceptively simple language. I loved it for the setting—a small seaside town in Japan—and for how its darkness creeps up on you.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
SL: King Lear by Shakespeare. It taught me how creative and fun literary analysis can be.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
SL: Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. I’m reading it very slowly because I’m a slow reader but also to savor every word.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
SL: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
Sanaë Lemoine was born in Paris to a Japanese mother and French father, and raised in France and Australia. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her MFA at Columbia University. She now lives in New York. The Margot Affair is her first novel.
Sanaë Lemoine’s The Margot Affair is out now in paperback from Hogarth Press