By Ariel Gordon
Toronto-based writer Nino Ricci is the son of Italian immigrants.
In addition to his five novels—two of which won the Governor General's Award for Fiction—Ricci has written a biography of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
|Kevin Kelly Photography|
Ricci was in Winnipeg recently, launching his sixth novel, Sleep. He took the time to speak to Ariel Gordon.
FP: What do you want people to know about Sleep?
Nino Ricci: While there is a lot in the novel that is actually about sleep, which turns out to be a good deal more important to us than most of us might have guessed, the question of sleep is also a stepping-off point for looking at a whole range of other issues, such as the lies we tell ourselves in order to live with ourselves, the mistakes we make over and over, and whether many of us, in fact, spend much of our waking lives in a kind of sleep, fiddling like Nero while the planet burns.
FP: Sleep seems to work with some of the same ideas that some of the smarter zombie books/movies do—Edgar Wright's 2009 feature Shaun of the Dead, with its satiric look at lower-middle-class England, comes to mind—that people have become tech-obsessed, full of misdirected rage at perceived slights and the sense that nothing they do really matters. What prompted you to work with these quasi-apocalyptic ideas? And how, do you think, is Sleep a progression or deviation from your previous work?
NR: I haven't actually seen Shaun of the Dead, but the comparison sounds right. I suspect the apocalyptic impulse is hard-wired into the human brain. It seems nearly every age likes to imagine itself at the brink either of Armageddon or the New Jerusalem, or of both. As a good Catholic boy I had such notions bred into me early, and spent much of my childhood awaiting the Second Coming and indeed secretly hoping I might be it. So apocalypse has always been there in my thinking; it has just taken me awhile to be up front about it. I see Sleep as following very naturally from ideas I started developing in my novels Testament and The Origin of Species, ideas that have less to do, I think, with the actual prospect of annihilation than with our obsession with it, and how time and again we seem to drive ourselves toward it despite our best intentions.
FP: Sleep is your eighth book in since Lives of the Saints was published in 1990. What are your goals for your writing now, as compared to your first books?
NR: My goals for my writing have not changed so much: to keep asking new questions and to keep setting new challenges. Ultimately what most novelists strive for, I think, is to find some way to hold the whole world—that was true for me at the start and remains true now. Since that isn't a goal I can ever really hope to reach, I guess it means I will just have to keep failing better at it, as Beckett put it.
FP: You wrote a biography of Pierre Elliot Trudeau that was published in 2009. Did it give you any particular insights into the recent federal election?
NR: I'm not sure it is advisable to ask a novelist for insights on federal politics. Let me just say that I'm very happy to see the country emerge from The Great Darkness of the Harper years, and wish Trudeau fils the very best.
FP: Tell me about your parents' influence on your thinking, on your work ethic, on your writing.
NR: When I was young, of course, I wanted to be nothing like my parents. In many ways I am nothing like them, though mainly because all their hard work gave me a chance to pursue the sort of life they never had a shot at. Then so much of what drives me and of what I write about goes back to what I learned through them or to what their own lives exposed me to. We talk a lot about the immigrant experience in this country but I think we have yet to appreciate the true enormity of it, not just the rupture and dislocation that goes with it but also the incredible sense of possibility.
FP: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
NR: Right now I'm reading The Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey and Martin John by Anakana Schofield. As for my writing, I've been getting a start on a novel set in Edwardian England.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.