June 8, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Anne Korkeakivi's An Unexpected Guest is a compelling debut novel that elegantly unfolds its narrative of a 24-hour period in the life of a diplomat's wife, one of the year's most complex and unforgettable literary characters.
Bookreporter wrote of the book:
"Like Virginia Woolf did in Mrs. Dalloway, Anne Korkeakivi brilliantly weaves the complexities of an age into an act as deceptively simple as hosting a dinner party."
Try this sometime: At a cocktail party or in a crowded train station, listen to everything being said – and every other sound - around you simultaneously and at equal levels. This is what life is like for me. I cannot filter sound.
Perhaps this is why I cannot listen to music while I write. Having music on when I write is like having a back-seat driver whispering directions directly into my ear. If the song is mournful, so will be my story; if it is lively, so will be the rhythm. That is, if I can focus enough to write. Mostly, I find myself just listening.
Because of this, I've always thought I would never have a playlist for anything I write. When my older daughter and I sat down to create a playlist for my book launch party, I discovered differently.
From 1997 to 2007, we lived in the small city of Strasbourg in eastern France. Strasbourg is a French city where you can go for days without hearing English in the streets. English isn't even the most commonly spoken foreign language.
During those ten years, I did several remarkable things: I, with my husband, brought our two daughters through infancy; I began my debut novel, An Unexpected Guest; and I learned to listen to French pop music.
Yes. I could not name a Brittany Spears song and have only a vague idea of whom ‘N Sync were. (Justin Timberlake, right?) But driving, running, folding laundry, I found myself humming Raphaël, Calogero, and Francis Cabrel.
When we began downloading titles for the party's playlist, these songs began to spill out of me. I astonished my own self, not only with how many French pop songs I knew but also by how fiercely, viscerally they transported me back to the nascent days of An Unexpected Guest.
An Unexpected Guest tells the story of an American woman married to a British diplomat in Paris in the mid-2000s, asked to put on a last-minute dinner that could earn him a much-wanted ambassadorship. On this same day, the seditious secret she's been hiding for twenty years rears its head in Hydra-like fashion.
The songs for my playlist are not what my heroine, Clare Moorhouse, would have listened to. But they are what she would have heard. They are what I heard.
"Marie" by Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday is France's one true, larger-than-life, born rock star. In France, Johnny is legend.
To this day, I cannot hear the name "Marie" without breaking into the first lines – Oh Marie, si tu savais, tout le mal que l'on me fait (O Mary, if you knew all the evil done to me) – of Johnny Hallyday's monster hit about wartime loss of innocence. This my be because I heard the song so many times. But its theme couldn't me more fitting: An Unexpected Guest takes place at the height of the Iraq War, a few years after 9/11, and hearkens back to an earlier violent conflict. A third historical episode of extreme violence also comes into the discussion. The lasting effect of these events on Clare, her family, and the people around her is integral to the story.
"Sous le Vent" by Garou and Celine Dion
French-Canadians Garou and Celine Dion's smash hit duet of 2002, in good Gallic fashion, embraces erratic behavior in love: "Et si tu crois que c'est fini, jamais. C'est juste une pause, un repit après les dangers." (And if you think it's over – never. It's just a break, a rest after the danger.) I can't explain how apt this song is for An Unexpected Guest without giving away too much of the story. Suffice to say that Clare married her husband on the rebound from a very different sort of man.
"Me Gustas Tu" by Manu Chao
French-born of Spanish parents, Manu Chao sings in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Gallic, Italian, English, and maybe a few other languages as well. What better musical choice for a book set within the Babel-ian world of the expat and diplomatic communities? "Me Gustas Tu" is another song about the vagaries of the human heart: Que voy a hacer, je ne sais plus. Que voy a hacer, je suis perdu. Que horas son, mi corazón. (What am I going to do, I don't know anymore. What am I going to do, I am lost. What times these are, my heart.)
"Les Tournesols" by Marc Lavoine
On a happier note, I'd like people to see An Unexpected Guest as a book, ultimately, about hope. And that's how I interpret this catchy summery pop-ballad by handsome Marc Lavoine: Mince la chance qui nous reste. Hein, hein, hum, hum, saissons la quand même. (Slender the chance we have left, but let's grab it.)
"Le Vent Nous Portera" by Noir Desir
Noir Desir, like many of the biggest bands, emerged from a high-school friendship. Also like many, it collapsed in substance abuse and infamy. Lead singer Bertrand Cantat was convicted in 2003 of manslaughter for the beating death during a drunken argument of his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant. He served four years in prison. In 2010, his wife and the mother of his two kids, Kristina Rády, committed suicide. Some months later, Noir Desir disbanded definitively.
You don't need to understand the lyrics to get this song, but here's the first stanza, translated: "I am not afraid of the journey. We have to see it. We have to taste it. Meandering deep inside, and all goes well. The wind will carry us."
Anne Korkeakivi and An Unexpected Guest links:
The Christian Manifesto review
Christian Science Monitor review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fiction Writers Review review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Radio New Zealand review
Janet Skeslein Charles interview with the author
Newtonville Books Community Blog interview with the author
The Paris Blog interview with the author
The Quivering Pen guest post by the author
Writer Abroad interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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