We talked to Julia Rochester about her longlisted novel, The House at the Edge of the World.
John Venton’s drunken fall from a Devon cliff leaves his family with an embarrassing ghost. His twin children flee in separate directions to take up their adult lives. Their mother, enraged by years of unhappy marriage, embraces merry widowhood. Only their grandfather finds solace in the crumbling family house, endlessly painting their story onto a large canvas map, a map that holds a devastating secret.
The Desmond Elliott Prize judges said: ‘Julia Rochester cunningly compounds elements of the paranormal, the folkloric and the legendary into this unholy saga of a family if not blessed then infinitely beguiling. […] It begins with a death but declines the label of a detective story. There might have been murder but there is little rush to find a body, or a perpetrator. Here the writer’s plot, and the readers’ pleasure, lies in impeccably mapping a mystery of the human heart.’
Describe your book in one sentence
According to The Bookseller: ‘A highly engrossing literary mystery.’
How does it feel to be longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize?
Writing can be a very solitary activity. It’s wonderful to discover that the book has a life outside my head and that readers are responding to it positively enough to put it forward for a prize.
Unfamiliar names in fiction can be overlooked by readers and booksellers. A first novel prize is great for bringing unknown writers and readers together.
What is your favourite debut novel?
Hard question – I’m not usually aware whether or not a book I’m reading is a debut. I loved The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller – so passionate and written with such clarity – I’m pretty sure that was a debut.
What’s the book you are recommending right now?
Can I have two? Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane. Not a novel, but a book that anyone who loves words should read. For my novel: Mexican writer Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World in a brilliant translation by Lisa Dillman. I was lucky to appear with him at Edinburgh Lit Fest, or would have missed this extraordinary, lyrical book about the Mexican/US border. I encourage every booklover to subscribe to his British publisher, And Other Stories. They bring wonderful literary voices into the English language, all paid for by subscribers. Sign up!