The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness: PW Talks with Jane Alison

Photo by Mary Motley Kalergis
Photo by Mary Motley Kalergis
In Nine Island, Alison tells the story of a solitary woman living in a Miami high-rise apartment, who considers retiring from love and is obsessed with Ovid’s poems.

The narrator of your book, J, spends a lot of her time looking out the window of her high-rise, yet her apartment is covered in mirrors. Is she more interested in looking outward than looking inward?

Interesting observation. She does spend a lot of time thinking about—obsessing about—pondering issues in her inner self, so it’s a relief to cast herself outward. She is fascinated by how other people—or pelicans or iguanas—behave and almost loses her own sense of self when watching. She’s also at an age when her own bodily reflection is more irritating than anything else. But those mirrors are good for expanding the sense of space, doubling the sky.
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Excerpt – The Love-Artist



http://www.janealisonauthor.com/the-love-artist/Now the word is given, the horses are lashed, and the wagon jolts down the dark street, a helmeted soldier seated at each side and Ovid, the exile, between them. Flames glare through the eyes and mouths of stone lanterns, and the blue night air swirls about him like water. The Palatine, crusted with villas, floats off to his left, the Capitoline with its glowing temples to his right; his own house dissolves far behind. His cold hands are clasped together upon his satchel, and he stares, his eyes like the eyes of the lanterns, that word still incomprehensible. Exile.

The Love-Artist

The soldiers came to his house only an hour ago. They stood in the overgrown atrium, in their dazzling armor, and when they told him why they’d come, Ovid–tall and lean, pen in hand–noticed the red wall near his arm gently waver. It was late. “I see,” he said, but all he could hear was a humming. “Tomis.” He touched the wall with his fingertip to still it. “The Black Sea, you say. Exile”–as if in his own voice it might become clear. “But I may bring what I want. My writing things, my books.”
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Excerpt – Change Me

“Hermaphroditus and Salmacis” (Metamorphoses 4.285-388)


http://www.janealisonauthor.com/change-me/Hear how the Salmacis pool got an evil name
for its powerful waters that enervate men.
The potency’s famous—the cause, not so known.

Change Me

In the caves of Ida, nymphs once nursed a boy,
the child of Mercury and divine Venus.
You could see both mother and father in his face,
and his name came from the two of them, too.
When he turned fifteen, he left his mountain home
and the peaks of Ida where he’d grown, eager
to see rivers he’d never seen and go places
he’d never been: excitement sped his feet.
He went far—the towns of Lycia and Caria
nearby—and there he saw a still, deep pool,
translucent all the way down. Beside it grew
no marshy reeds, spiky rush, or swamp grass:
its water clear as glass. The pool was rimmed
with fresh herbs and moss, bright and ever green.
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Excerpt – The Sisters Antipodes

“Swapping Fathers, Swiftly”

Reprinted from the New York Times, Modern Love column, 1 March 2009.

http://www.janealisonauthor.com/the-sisters-antipodes/Whenever I take the train from Washington to New York, I relive how it was in 1973, when my sister and I went to see our father for the first time in seven years. She was 14 and I was 11, and speeding with us like our ghosts in the window was the sense that the man who had existed for so long only in our minds, or as an ache deep in the ribs, would soon be seen and real to us, as would we to him.

The Sisters Antipodes

Years earlier, when my sister and I were 7 and 4, our parents met another couple, got along well, and before long traded partners. This was in Canberra, where our father, an Australian diplomat, had just brought us home from a posting in Washington. The other father was also a diplomat but American, finishing a post in Canberra before returning to the United States.

Both men were in their early 30s, tall, slim and ambitious; the women were smart and good-looking. Both couples had two little girls the same ages, and the younger girls shared a birthday and almost the same name. This was my counterpart, Jenny, and me. The two families had so much in common, people said; they must meet.
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Excerpt – The Marriage of the Sea

Pages 238 – 247:

http://www.janealisonauthor.com/the-marriage-of-the-sea/Max signed all the papers in the emerald-green building near the warehouse district, and then he went with the keys to find the rental car. It was emerald-green, too, small and bright, like an insect. He walked around it, inspecting, put a foot to a tire, and finally opened the door and got in. He hadn’t driven for he did not know how long. He hadn’t driven on this side of the road. The cigarette smell, the warm vinyl; he rolled down the windows and turned on the radio, which blasted loud, and with just a touch of gas Max lurched from the lot and was seventeen, and girls were new again.

The Marriage of the Sea

It was still morning, and he’d have the car until this time tomorrow. He drove east. At least it seemed to be east; with the river’s bendings, it was hard to keep track. Downriver, at any rate. A map flapped on the seat beside him, held down with a guidebook. He drove through the Eighth Ward, then the Ninth, and he knew the river was somewhere, snaking along to his right.
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Excerpt – Natives and Exotics

Pages 28-36:


www.janealisonauthor.com/natives-and-exotics/But the sky lost its light quickly, there on the equator. Then Quito lay glittering in the mountain’s lap, its lights mirrored by the stars. It didn’t seem possible, as Alice stood on the balcony and stared up, that there could be so many stars. As if, were you to pull away the veil of black, all that light would fall.

Natives and Exotics

It was quiet, then, still no one allowed on the streets. But as Alice was gazing up at the sky, in the hills all around, where the modern houses stood, the first of the season’s initiations took place.

Earlier, before curfew, mothers had waited in their cars for the gate to open, for their girls to slip from the cars and run in. Then the girls had played Twister and told ghost stories, and grown hot with sugar and excitement, until the hosting mother came in and told them lights out. In the fuggy air of sleeping bags and breath, after several eruptions of giggling, it gradually became quiet.
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Excerpt – “A Masque in Disguise”

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut


When Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut appeared in 1999, it was titillatingly billed as a film about sex and jealousy starring a genuine Hollywood couple, and the element of the film to stir the greatest pre-opening excitement was generally dubbed “the orgy.” Once the film opened, some critics hailed it as a masterpiece, but far more called it a catastrophe, and the scene that embarrassed even the film’s most positive critics was in fact the “orgy.” Yet it was not the fornication vignettes or even (in the American version) their digital revisioning that were most troubling; it was the scene’s alarming “staginess,” which critics such as Richard Schickel of Time described as “risible.” This staginess was seen by harsher critics to plague the entire film–in its mannered dialogue, the artificiality of the New York set, the implausibility of Cruise in his role, the sheer ludicrousness of the plot. Most critics either rationalized or critiqued the film’s tone and plot by declaring it, as Philip Hensher does, a “scrupulously faithful adaptation” of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 Traumnovelle. But Kubrick did not adhere to Schnitzler as closely as most have assumed; the film is just what the credits assert: “inspired by” the novella. Precisely how the film departs shows Eyes Wide Shut to be more mischievous and playful than many at first saw, and hints at another dream-story that may have inspired it as well. The “orgy” itself, in both its faithfulness to and deviations from Schnitzler, provides a clue to the film’s larger strategy.
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Seed Magazine

Excerpt – “The Plant Hunter”

Seed Magazine

The Sea Heart


It began with the Sea Heart, a glossy red thing like a chambered nut they found rolling in the waves. The water should have been cold on that Scottish island but wasn’t; it was as warm as a bath, although no one had troubled to notice this–no one but Thom and Clarabelle. They were standing side by side in the water, as usual, she with her skirts yanked up to the knees and her toes nudging his in the sand, when they spotted the Sea Heart bobbing.

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Thom let Clarabelle snatch it first. She ran a wet finger all around it, her tongue slipping between her teeth, then dropped it in his hand and demanded he tell.
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