Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby by Nina SubinCredit

When I put down Hermione Hoby's wonderful book Neon in Daylight for the last time, after just finishing it, I remember thinking it was a perfect "slice of life" book. What I mean by that is this: if you lay someone's life down on a piece of paper, like a timeline from birth to death, a "slice of life" book pops in on that life, often at no particularly important time, and stays with the main character for a few months or even a year, then leaves. We pop in on "Kate's" singularly interesting life in this very way.

Kate is a London-based Brit who is "cat-sitting" a cat named Joni Mitchell for a friend in a New York City apartment. She finds herself in a new, quite American world that she's eager to explore. It's her voice, her unique experience of this time, that pulls us in to her story and we don't want to leave.

Photo curtesy of tripfiction.com

Of all the splendid reviews Hermione has received, I have to say I liked Sara Cutaia's of the Chicago Review of Books the best. She ends it with;
"The book opens with a holiday: the Fourth of July, and ends with one, too: Halloween. Between these bookends, cocktails are made, outrageous outfits are bought, and illicit sexual favors are doled out. As Kate wanders the city and ping-pongs between Inez and Bill’s circles, the novel comes to a climax that brings no resolution. And yet, it’s an ending that fits: vigorous and dynamic, albeit off-balance. Neon in Daylight is Hermione Hoby’s debut novel, and her skill on the sentence level — along with a keen eye for detail — will catapult her to stardom."
I couldn't agree more. 

Hermione, tell me about where you live and why you love it so much.
I'm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where I've been for about four years now. I love being near the water, I love being able to walk three minutes and take in the view of Manhattan, I love that there's this old Polish community here and I love that, geographically, it feels sort of like the end of Brooklyn - there's a slight outpost feel to it.

And, more prosaically, it has lots of nice cafes which are good to work in. Less loveable is the sound of jackhammers and piledrivers all summer: the condos are encroaching.

7 year old Hermione with her brother Mathew.

Where were you living when you were 7 years old? Are they fond memories? In British suburbia, in the semi-detached house my parents still live in, in Hayes, Bromley.
Hayes, a suburb of the London Borough of Bromley

We moved there when I was six and I was thrilled because there was a good tree to climb in the back garden and, even better, woods at the end of the road. Also there was a woman across the road with a Shetland pony in her back garden and that was the best. School stressed me out hugely, but other than that it was a very happy childhood. My parents were English teachers so the house was full of books. Every room, in fact, had books in it. I just thought that was how everyone lived. And now I can't believe how lucky I was.  

Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her? Yes, all my English teachers at Croydon High School were wonderful and though I'm gratefully still in touch with them, I've been unable to fully transition to addressing them by their first names, so shout out to Mr. Vickery, Ms. Forshaw and Ms. Saudek.

Jill Saudek

                                      Jonathon Vickery
                  Judith Forshaw

Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?
So many. I think most books change the way I look at life. This year, Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus electrified me.

It was terrifying, like some divine force was seeing right into my being and speaking to me. My hairs stood on end. More recently, Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room made me think more deeply about the shame of mass incarceration in America, but also about what "the moral novel" might look like in 2018. I'm in awe of her.

I told her this: that reading The Mars Room felt like having the sky peeled back on what fiction can do.

What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?
Oh god I was such a strange, intense, silent child. Family friends say they didn't hear me speak until I was about eight. When I was three and my brother was five there was an incident with a paddling pool that remains disputed and which I won't go into here. It's sort of entered family lore.
Is there any message you want to give or anything you want to say to your great-great-great grandchildren when they read this?
I'm pretty sure I don't want children, so that rules out great, great, grandchildren, but I'm taking enormous delight in being an aunt to one nephew and two nieces, and I love the idea that they - or maybe even their children and children's children, might pick up their great aunt's book after she's long dead. I just hope they're kind, and that they read a lot and they know that people and literature are sacred.
I admired you for wearing a yellow wedding dress to your wedding, what brought you to that decision?
Oh that's funny! - I'm not sure it's anything worthy of admiration. White dresses are beautiful, no doubt - I've been moved to tears at the sight of many beloved female friends in them - but for me, the egregious sexual double standard of their symbolism was just a hard no.
No way was I going to walk down an aisle with my eyes lowered, submitting to a tradition in which the bride's virginity must be broadcast to the assembled. There is so much "tradition" about weddings that is unconscionably oppressive, sexist. My husband and I had both our parents walk each of us down the aisle. Yellow seemed to me a color of joy and celebration and optimism. I've just always loved the color. Also, my mum got married in a vivid floral dress, so in a way I was perpetuating a tradition, a matrilineal one.
How are you different now than you were 20 years ago.
I'm trying to conjure myself at... my god, thirteen, and remember who she was. I was better at climbing trees when I was 13. I dress better now, obviously. I'm certainly better read, I can say that with confidence. And there are so many writers important to me now whom I hadn't read at 13. I think I'd just discovered Virginia Woolf and modernism, so there was that, but shit, there was so much to come: Anne Carson, Lydia Davis, Toni Morrison, David Foster Wallace (that happened at 25, the correct age to read him), Maggie Nelson, Elizabeth Hardwick, George Saunders, Javier Marias, Rachel Kushner, Helen DeWitt, Joy Williams, James Salter, so many more. I hope I'm a little quieter, not literally (I was a shy and anxious thirteen) but rather in a listening-better sort of way.
13 year old Hermione.
I feel more ambitious, but an ambition rooted in internal assessment and honesty, rather than external approbation. It took me a long time to begin to unlearn the quantifying tyrannies of both British education systems and late capitalism. I think there's such a vulgarity to numbers, such an oppressive force to discrete figures which are meant to confer value. How can human or cultural value be denoted by numbers?! I'm more interested in unquantifiable things. They seem to me more precious. I have a greater respect for the body's truth, as in, I've got better at heeding and respecting sickness and tiredness. My friendships are deeper, of course. That seems one of the most beautiful things about getting older - that, if you're lucky, you might have several relationships in your life which become marriages of sorts. There are two friends here in NYC and one in London who've been very dear to me since we were eighteen, nineteen. We're married, you know? And at this point those marriages seem indissoluble.
You’ve mentioned needing to be in a relaxed, dreamy, associative, open state of mind to be able to write. Do you think you’ll always need to leave NYC to write?
No, I love being here. I think once a project is underway I'm very happy writing here. It might just be that leaving helps put me in a state receptive to the germ of an idea. But the energy of this place keeps my engine going. How did you first hear of Julius Eastman? What about him makes him so special to you?
Julius Eastman
I think I probably came to him through Jace Clayton, who had a brilliant show on WFMU called "Mudd Up". Julius Eastman was just the real deal - the music's wild and propulsive and furious and disciplined. I wrote a lot of Neon in Daylight to it - I wanted some of that febrile energy. I think he snubbed John Cage, or rather, John Cage felt he had been snubbed by him. And so, this wildly talented African American guy in this very white minimalist scene was just shunted out of music history and died homeless. The wonderful Hilton Als wrote about him here.
Finally, the prerequisite IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME
to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,
be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice,
actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all,
meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.

When would you go?
Where would you go?
Who would you want to meet?
And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?
New York, 1970

Whenever I think of this question I think of the embarrassing, Woody Allen wish-fulfilment version, in which you just happen to run into Gertrude Stein and a mustache twirling Salvador Dali, and I have to remind myself that, being in New York in the late seventies wouldn't necessarily mean I was hanging out with Arthur Russell and like, high-fiving Nicky Siano on the dancefloor. As in, I'm sure that New York in the late Seventies was mostly horrible: more racism, more sexism, muggings and trash fires and crack-ravaged wastelands, but, you know, I'd take all that for a day if it meant I could go see Arthur Russell at the Kitchen.
Arthur Russell playing his cello at the Kitchen

Thank you so much Hermione, Arthur Russell, I'm sure is thrilled to be your pick from anyone else in history, that's quite a compliment! Here's Arthur singing This is How We Walk on the Moon.

I highly recommend Neon in Daylight, pick up or order a copy from your local indie bookstore.


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