Interview with author Lori Lansens

Our chat with the author of Canadian novel The Girls, our Canadian Living Book Club pick for August.

By Kat Tancock

On the book

Learn more about the Canadian Living Book Club!

Our first pick for the Canadian Living Book Club is The Girls, by Canadian author Lori Lansens. The Girls tells the story of conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlens and their lives and loves. (Click here to read an excerpt from the book.) We chatted with Lansens about her novel and her writing process.

Canadian Living: What, if anything, do you think makes this novel Canadian?

Lori Lansens: I'm not sure how to identify a novel as Canadian. I was born and raised in Canada -- so the geography and character of the country are on my spiritual hard drive and thus filtered through my work. The story of The Girls is set in southwestern Ontario. Rose and Ruby Darlen, because they live in border territory, are hugely influenced by America and have an interesting frame of reference for their Canadian identities.

CL: What is your favourite scene in The Girls?

LL: My favourite scene in The Girls is a crucial chapter, near the end of the book, where Rose Darlen finally has the courage, and the opportunity, to ask quietly (and privately) for a thing that she has wanted all her life. A kiss. The kiss is symbolic for Rose, not just a wish before dying, but a tearing down of a wall.

CL: Why did you choose to make Rose and Ruby joined at the head?

LL: Craniopagus twins are among the rarest of conjoined twins, and perhaps one of the most visually dramatic. The girls can't look at each other, except in mirrors, yet their intimacy is complete. There is a natural tendency among people, because of the nature of their conjoinment, to imagine that Rose and Ruby's thoughts and minds are one, but of course they're not. For me, the cranial conjoinment was the most striking. I also wanted to juxtapose Ruby's beautiful face with Rose's distorted features. And Rose's strong body with Ruby's weak one.

CL: How do you think the story would have changed if they had been joined in another way -- say, at the torso?

LL: I think that the girls would have had to fight less fiercely to be seen as individuals. Perhaps they would have struggled less with their own identities and might not have developed into the very different women they become.

CL: Aunt Lovey seems attracted to outsiders, like Stash and the girls. Yet she herself grew up as someone who belonged in her community -- or so I gather from what I read. What do you think is her motivation in this?

LL: As a writer I've always been attracted to outsiders. I think I can gain the most insight into human behaviour from looking at characters who appear to be on the other side of "normal." The main characters in my body of work (screenplays or novels) all stand apart to some degree, though not in the obvious way that Rose and Ruby do. I suppose Aunt Lovey is like me. Her interest is not purely benevolent. My goal is to study the outsider and to explain the character to myself and to readers. Aunt Lovey's goal is to enfold the outsider, to love and nurture and bring them "inside."

CL: One conclusion I came to after reading The Girls was that no matter how much you love someone and how much time you spend with them, you can never truly know them. Why do you think this is?

LL: I think that speaks to the idea of truth, and memory and honesty and identity. And it's an interesting discussion because of all the recent hoo-ha over the nature of the memoir. I think it's a biological imperative to keep secrets. We all bend the truth. Sometimes we fabricate, or deny, or extrapolate because we don't want to hurt another person. Sometimes we are simply deceivers, of self and others. All of us. So we can never, no matter how intimate and soulful our connection, fully know another person. Our secrets, ultimately, are all we have. They define us. They sustain us.

Visit our Book Club forums to chat about The Girls and your other favourite novels with readers from across the country!

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