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In a Coal Mine with No Lamp: An Interview with Anakana Schofield


Interview by Charles-Adam Foster-Simard

The last year has been busy for Anakana Schofield, a Vancouver writer whose first novel, Malarky, was published to much critical praise in 2012. The book comes with recommendations from such literary stars as Emma Donoghue and Annabel Lyon, it was named on over a dozen top-ten book lists of the year, nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction prize and, more recently, the Debut-Litzer Award for fiction, and it won the coveted Amazon.ca First Novel Award this Spring. Malarky has also come out in Ireland and the UK in the summer, where it’s been garnering fresh praise.

I meet Anakana Schofield in a local Vancouver coffee shop across the street from a gigantic, recently closed Blockbuster. I find her to be chatty, amenable, and quick-witted. She has a tendency to circle around subjects and state what, at first, appear to be contradictions but are in fact revelations of deeper complexities. When she walks into the coffee shop, she takes a moment to chat with the barista, who recognizes her and shows her pictures of his new grandchild.

Malarky is set in Ireland, where Schofield has lived and where her family still lives. One of the pictures on Schofield’s website shows the author stacking turf in an Irish bog to dry out and eventually burn as fuel. Schofield, however, is loathe to call her book a work of “Irish” fiction. “Would it stand up to an anthropological, forensic test?” she asks. “Would it make it in a social science study? Probably not.” Rather, Schofield advocates a focus on language, and she hypothesizes that where the novel is most Irish is in its language, because the author’s own mother tongue is Hiberno-English. “I’m interested to see how Malarky will be received in Ireland,” she adds, “but it’s a work of form and language, not a work of geography.” As it turns out, Malarky has been much appreciated in Ireland, where it received very positive reviews.

Malarky tells the story of an Irish mother called Philomena, usually referred to in the book as “Our Woman,” who discovers her son having sex with another boy. In parallel, Our Woman learns that her husband may be cheating on her just before he dies. As a result of her anxiety and confusion, Our Woman begins to explore her own sexuality and starts an affair with a younger lover, a Syrian student, just as her son runs away to America and enrolls in the American Army to fight in Afghanistan.

“I like polarities, you know,” Schofield says as she reflects on the sexuality in the book. Continue reading In a Coal Mine with No Lamp: An Interview with Anakana Schofield