I read and reviewed Ellen Sussman's last novel; French Lessons back in December 2011. What impressed me most about that novel was the author's ability to tell quite an intimate, fairly complicated story in such a sparse style.
This is the story of two quite isolated people; Jamie and Gabe. Flung together in the aftermath of the terrible terrorist attacks on the island of Bali, they only spent a couple of days together before going back to live their separate lives. One year later, Jamie is returning to Bali for a remembrance ceremony. Her scars are not only on the outside, she is suffering and haunted by feelings of guilt. Guilt that she was unable to save her boyfriend on that awful night, and guilt about leaving Gabe so suddenly, with no explanation.
When Jamie lands in Bali, she is welcomed into the home of another victim of that night and befriended by a young boy who helps her to see just what is important to her. When she finally finds Gabe again, it is time for both of them to face up to their past and think about their future.
Just like French Lessons, this novel is fairly short at just over 250 pages. Despite this, the story is vivid and well-paced. Ellen Sussman doesn't waste one word. There are no flowery descriptions or pages and pages of unnecessary dialogue. The story is told in sparse, yet descriptive language which transports the reader straight to the heart of the island of Bali. The culture, the people, the sights and sounds are brought to life expertly. Jamie and Gabe are complex characters, each have had their own sorrows in the past and both of them have chosen alternative lifestyles in order to cope with these. Ellen Sussman spent time in Bali whilst researching this novel and this is apparent throughout the story, she has captured the tastes and flavours of the island whilst also portraying the sadness and despair that remains amongst the people who live there. The terrorist bombings in what should be a place of peace and tranquility has left a mark on its people that will be hard to overcome.
I enjoyed The Paradise Guest House very much. I think that Ellen Sussman is a talented author who is able to capture a sense of place incredibly well.
As part of the Blog Tour, I'm really delighted to welcome Ellen Sussman to Random Things Through My Letterbox today. Ellen has kindly answered some questions about her reading and writing habits.
What are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading The Fault In Our Stars, a wonderful novel that started out as a book for young adults and has now found an adult audience. It's wonderful, but I can't stop crying!
Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
I do read them. Sometimes I think I shouldn't - I take them too seriously! I care so much about what my readers think of my books. In my mind, the writing process isn't over until someone reads the novel. I love hearing from fans - that means even more to me than reviews.
How long does it take to write a novel?
It takes me about a year. I write a first draft in about 6 months and then I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Yes. I'm a much disciplined writer. I work from 9 - noon 5 or 6 days a week. I don't answer the phone or check email while I'm working. I can't quit until I've written 1000 words. I'm a very tough boss!
What was your favourite childhood book?
As a young girl I loved Charlotte's Web. Later on, The Catcher in the Rye.
Name one book that made you laugh?
A new novel called Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. It's wonderful and very funny.
Name one book that made you cry?
The Fault in our Stars! Also, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I'm inspired by every book I read! I read all the time and I always ask myself, how did the author do this? So I'm learning all the time.
What is your guilty pleasure read?
I don't really believe we should feel guilty about anything we read.
Who are your favourite authors?
I love Jennifer Egan and Ann Patchett.
What book have you re-read?
I'm not big on re-reading novels. There are too many great novels out there waiting for me.
What book have you given up on?
I have a 50 page test. If I'm not hooked by page 50, I move on. Unfortunately, I move on a lot!
Huge thanks to Ellen Sussman for answering my questions. I must say that I agree on the guilty pleasure read answer - never feel guilty, that's my motto. Read what you like, when you like and be proud!
I'd like to thank Emily Burns from Constable & Robinson for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour and for sending a copy of The Paradise Guest House for review.
Follow Ellen on Twitter @EllenSussman. More information can be found on her website here.