Vendela Vida: ‘The sense of smell is underused in fiction these days’

Source: The Globe and Mail / /

Vendela Vida is the author of several books, including the novels Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and The Lovers. Vida, who lives in California, is also a founding editor of The Believer magazine. Her latest novel, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, was recently published by HarperCollins Canada.

Whose sentences are your favourite and why?

I study first sentences. I love the first sentence of Ian Frazier’s book Family: “The twentieth century began on a Tuesday.” And I admire all of Joan Didion’s first sentences. I also like the opening of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: “For a man of his age, 52, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.” That aside, “to his mind,” tells you he hasn’t figured it out at all.

What’s your favourite word to use in a sentence, and why?

My favourite word is “bosky,” but I think I’ve only used it once in a book. (It’s not a word you can overuse.) I love to describe things as smelling bosky. The sense of smell is underused in fiction these days. That said, I don’t know how many things actually smell bosky.

Which country produces literature that you wish more people would read?

My mother is Swedish and I’m a huge reader and fan of Swedish literature, so with a friend I’m working on editing and publishing a new anthology of Swedish literature, with the intention of bringing underappreciated and previously untranslated writers to a wider audience. In the process, I’ve discovered many writers I admire: Hjalmar Soderberg, Stig Dagerman and Victoria Benedictsson to name a few.

Which book got you through the darkest period of your life?

When I was in high school, I felt very alienated from the events going on around me – imagine that, an alienated teenager! I shaved one side of my head, that kind of thing, and I delved into the work of Czech writers – Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal. As a result, I felt less solitary, because I admired that these writers were risking repercussions in the hopes of voicing a greater truth. These writers helped me remember that there was a much bigger struggle in the world than my dramatic, solipsistic teenager’s “reality.” The Czech struggle for democracy helped me forget high school. Chalk up another win to Vaclav Havel.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I was friends with the writer Amanda Davis when we were in our 20s, and she used to always say, “Write something that scares you.” I think about this a lot. What she meant was, “Don’t get too comfortable,” and I try not to.