Perfect comeback

Kate Zambreno discusses the re-print of her critically acclaimed 2011 novel Green Girl

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US author Kate Zambreno discusses the re-print of her critically acclaimed 2011 novel Green Girl and the impact it has had on readers and her subsequent work.

Since the publication of her first novel O Fallen Angel four years ago, US author Kate Zambreno has gone on to launch blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister and critical memoir Heroines. Now, her second novel, Green Girl is being re-published by Harper Collins’ paperback division Harper Perennial. Here, she talks about the feminist movement and the emotionally-charged book centred around the life of an American girl living London.

The phrase ‘green girl’ comes from Hamlet; Polonius says to Ophelia, ‘You speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance.’ Did that term inspire the novel, or did you come across it later? What other green girls influenced your main character Ruth?
Over the years I was writing Green Girl, I was also thinking and writing about the ideas that would come to form Heroines, and in Heroines, there’s an extended passage where I write about how Ophelia is represented as mad in her grief, wailing and moaning and drowning herself, unlike Hamlet, who plays mad but is allowed to be the angst-ridden philosopher. Ophelia was one of my many inspirations for Ruth, an attempt to find a sort of strangled interiority, along with medieval mystics, the early films of Catherine Deneuve, Jean Seberg, a breaking-down Britney Spears, Renee Falconetti as Joan of Arc, so many girls I had known and observed, including myself. I liked the title and that line.

Green Girl has one of the most vibrant and jarring openings we’ve ever read, as the ‘I’ (the writer) describes birthing Ruth, and the narrative continues this structure, with interjections from the writer, never letting the reader forget that it’s a story. Can you tell me a bit about how you came across this way of telling Ruth’s story?
Green Girl extends beyond Ruth’s story, and the narrator helps propel this; it hopefully functions as a meditation on many things, on consumerism, self-awareness, the city, vanity, desire, alienation, how gender plays into all of this. The beginning sets up that an author-narrator, an ambivalent mother figure, is considering this character Ruth, is wondering about her creation, in some ways glorifying her youth, feeling sometimes such tenderness and other times such irritation and violence for her.

In many ways, Green Girl is a novel about viewing: the writer viewing her character, the character viewing herself and imagining how others view her. How much were you thinking about voyeurism when you were writing the book?
I thought about voyeurism and surveillance a lot. It is still something that intrigues me, and I think it is also an extremely contemporary horror or dilemma. In Green Girl, I wanted to foreground that a narrator is watching Ruth, that Ruth is watched out in public, and also in public she is watching herself, which also fills her with nausea. She is not allowed to be anonymous in the crowds. But I also feel compelled to write about what characters are like when they are alone. That is what obsesses me, still now, and I don’t know why the realities of the disturbances of our bodies should be glossed over.

What are you working on now?
Another novel, of a published woman writer, that is in some ways a sequel to Heroines. I’m calling it Switzerland. I like the immensity of what that holds.
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