16 July, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu
Amanda Craig. Photo: Charlie Hopkinson
AMANDA Craig is celebrating her 30th year as a published novelist. Her fearless tackling of difficult subjects has attracted a loyal following and she is gaining new fans all the time. Amanda’s family came to Primrose Hill in 1963 and she attended the local primary until they moved to Italy. She has lived in Camden since 1981.
She writes perceptively about family dynamics, broken relationships and abusive partners, and shrewdly depicts the effects of societal ills today. In her ninth novel, The Golden Rule, she explores the lives of millennials and the rent generation, sexual harassment in the workplace, computer gaming and collective inequity with a deft touch.
Hannah and Jake are going through a nasty divorce. He’s seeing someone else and keeps forgetting to pay the rent on the Kentish Town ex-council flat she shares with their daughter Maisy.
After having worked in advertising for a few years, Hannah now struggles to make ends meet. The child of a single parent, Hannah got to Durham university to read literature, and never thought she’d end up cleaning for a living and having to visit a food bank.
Poverty and wealth are themes that Amanda returns to time and again in her fiction. She admits that writing about money is “a deeply unfashionable topic” but one that she finds fascinating as did Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope before her.
In her previous novel, The Lie of the Land, Amanda demonstrated how rural deprivation in parts of Devon was a major force behind the county’s Brexit divide. Not surprisingly, her astute observations have led to Amanda’s acclamation as a state-of-the-nation novelist.
On a train to Cornwall to visit her dying mother, Hannah finds herself drawn to a woman sitting in first class. In a scene inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Jinni and Hannah share their marriage woes and agree to murder each other’s husbands. Amanda says she was prompted to write The Golden Rule while researching The Lie of the Land – also about a divorce. She kept hearing disgruntled women claim: “It would be so much easier to be a widow.”
In Cornwall, Hannah takes a job working for the man she’s supposed to kill, a huge, angry, uncouth designer of computer games. Stan is trying to sell his late parents’ run-down estate so he can pay off his ex-wife and move on. Hannah, overwhelmed by Jake’s selfishness and miserable about her situation, feels almost ready to fulfil her agreement with Jinni.
Amanda believes: “Everyone is capable of murder if they are made to feel strongly and desperately enough.”
Gradually, though, Hannah hears Stan’s side and begins to wonder whose story she should believe.
Amanda loves exploring truth and lies in her fiction: “How do you know who is telling the truth?” she says, and of The Golden Rule: “How do you know who is the real monster?” There are several echoes of Beauty and the Beast in her novel.
Stan’s career in computer games is a particularly compelling strand – one that fits Amanda’s interest in the redemptive power of storytelling. She offers some convincing arguments about computer games standing up as an art form. Her son, an ardent gamer, inspired this theme.
Amanda admits they used to have ferocious rows because she was worried that he would neglect his school work. Instead he taught her that gaming’s “fusion of arts is like the early days of film. It’s got image… music… script and the good ones have really interesting philosophical concepts behind them.”
Computer games often have multiple middles and multiple endings and that is something else that attracted Amanda, whose trademark is to interconnect the cast of characters in her novels – minor protagonists become major ones, and vice versa. She was inspired to do this after reading Balzac in her 20s and is surprised more authors don’t continue their characters’ story arcs.
“You go to all that trouble of dreaming up these characters and then the story arc finishes and you are supposed to just forget about them. But of course you can’t. You go on thinking about what would happen to them 20 years later or when they become parents… or get sick.” she says.
Her next novel will be about old age, she adds, and will feature three characters we have glimpsed in previous novels. I can’t wait.
- The Golden Rule. By Amanda Craig. Little Brown, £16.99