Nicole Krauss new novel, ‘Forest Dark’, at DLR Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire
I had no intention of writing about last evening’s event. None whatsoever. I stated my intention to my companions as we three arrived at the venue, DLR Lexicon, shortly after 7 pm.
In the midst of a huge edit myself for several weeks now, I wanted to sit back and listen to another writer talk about her novel which deals with a writer stumbling through the chaos that surrounds her as she goes in search of a new novel.
Perfect, I thought. Couldn’t be better. But I found myself being seduced.
Things started well as Bert Wright introduced this new series of the always excellent ‘Library Voices’, in Dun Laoghaire. ‘As well as this evening’s Nicole Krauss,’ he said, ‘we also have Claire Messud and Jennifer Egan to look forward to.’
‘Did we note the gender balance?’ he asked mischeviously. We did.
‘None of your old Abbey Theatre nonsense here,’ he declared. And the audience applauded.
Nadine O’Regan did a lovely job of interviewing Nicole Krauss, who was promoting her new novel, ‘Forest Dark’.
The encounter was warm, relaxed and engaging.
Krauss confessed at the start of the interview to having felt ‘trapped’ by her own poetry, which she had been writing from an early age. It was as though, she said, the poems became ‘tighter, smaller’, and she felt the need to expand into something bigger, ‘baggier’. Once she discovered it, she said, she loved the novel form.
‘Forest Dark’ is her fourth, following on from ‘Great House’, ‘The History of Love’ and ‘Man Walks Into a Room’. Her work as a novelist is a ‘mission still ongoing’, rather than ‘completed’ and she said that she is fascinated by the ways in which we all ‘form ourselves in opposition to our families’. The novel, in her view, is an opportunity to ask the reader ‘to sit for a while… in uncertainty.’
Sitting, reflection, stillness: these are all ways in which ‘we can arrive at something we didn’t know before’. And this acceptance of uncertainty can be difficult, in an age that values convenience above all.
Krauss believes that our lives are, above all, a ‘search for coherence’. In her novel, ‘Forest Dark’, of her characters, Nicole and Jules feel that they are each in their separate chaos, and are searching for ways in which they can construct their own narratives.
We all do this, she said: but the time often comes when we need to change those narratives because ‘they do not fit us any longer’. Change is not ‘throwing away’ all that one has been or experienced previously: it means constructing a new way of being, a way of becoming ‘something else’.
She used the word ‘gilgul’ – the Hebrew word for metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul – to explain what she means by this new way of becoming someone – or something – else. She tried – and failed – to convince her publisher that ‘Gilgul’ should be the title of this novel.
Instead, the actual title, ‘Forest Dark’ comes from some early lines of Longfellow’s translation of Dante’s Inferno.
The dark forest, Krauss said, represents magic and the fear of becoming lost. The forest is the refuge of outlaws, a place of danger – but also a place of possibility.
She spoke about how in writing, in fiction, ‘empathy is critical’.
She believes that fiction can explore issues that are ‘deeply personal’. She spoke of her grandparents – four Jewish ancestors from various parts of Europe: most of those places no longer exist in any recognisable way. The reality of her grandparents’ early lives has been ‘cancelled and lives on only in memory’.
She spoke of Trump’s America, and of the man himself as ‘a tyrannical parent’. She understands his appeal for that ‘portion of America that cannot find its place’ and she referred often to the writings of Kafka and his concern with times such as the ones we’re living in: ‘urgent times, times of emergency’.
She believes that Kafka – and all great art – leads us ‘to the precipice’ – that place from which we can glimpse infinity.
She said that writing is that ‘process of getting control of overwhelming ideas’: a process that ‘feels utterly impossible every time’.
That note – of impossibility, of writing, of change and ultimately, of optimism, felt like the absolutely appropriate way to end what had been a compelling, stimulating, and engrossing evening.