Like Jane Austen fan fiction, but much more ruthless: Claire Robertson on her new novel Under Glass
More about the book!
Award-winning author Claire Robertson chatted to Nancy Richards on SAfm about her masterful new novel Under Glass.
Robertson is the author of The Spiral House, which was shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize, and won the the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize as well as a South African Literary Award, and The Magistrate of Gower, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Fiction Prize.
Under Glass is set in Natal in the nineteenth century, among the settlers and the homesteaders and the sugar-cane farmers, and tells the story of Mrs Chetwyn, who arrives in Port Natal from India in 1856.
Richards calls Under Glass ‘intriguing’, and asked Robertson how long it took her to research the book.
‘It took two-and-a-half-years, not my usual two – if I have a usual after only three books!’ Robertson says. ‘This one was a delight to write and had great energy, I didn’t struggle so terribly with this one, and I’ve worked out why. It’s because there is a mystery at the heart of the story, that drew me forward and gave such energy to the storytelling process, as I hope it does to the experience of reading it as well.’
Robertson says the inspiration for the novel came about when she was rereading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
‘As you know, in that book the big background incident is that the family estate is entailed to the male line, and Mrs Bennet has five daughters and has to work out how she’s going to secure their future. And her solution is to marry them off, creatively, to various men. All her strategems and all her mental energy is to this end.
‘I remember thinking, my foremothers in this country were more enterprising than that, more resourceful, but also much more ruthless. And I started thinking about ways that Mrs Chetwyn, using the tools that she has in her armory, can set about working out how to secure tenure for herself, and the effect that this has on everyone around her.
‘So it’s not an homage, it’s not Jane Austen fan fiction, I wouldn’t dare do that, but the thought that Pride and Prejudice was the genesis for the novel was so encouraging because of course she’s the best ever.’
Listen to the podcast: