An interview with Chloe Hooper

by Australian Book Review
May 2022, no. 442

An interview with Chloe Hooper

by Australian Book Review
May 2022, no. 442
Chloe Hooper (photograph by Susan Gordon-Brown)

Chloe Hooper is the author of The Arsonist: A mind on fire and The Tall Man: Death and life on Palm Island and two novels, A Child’s Book of True Crime and The Engagement. Her most recent book is Bedtime Story.


If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?

Antarctica. Surely visiting the South Pole would tick off all the qualities of the sublime, being of great physical, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual and – as we hasten the ice shelves’ destruction – moral interest. I need to find a way there before it melts.


What’s your idea of hell?

The blithe way I wrote that last sentence.


What do you consider the most specious virtue?

Sincerity as presently practised. Everyone sharing their deepest feelings doesn’t always get us closer to the truth.


What’s your favourite film?

Most recently I loved Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. The half-light of the beautiful cinematography, and the hybrid mix of documentary and scripted scenes.


And your favourite book?

Again, too hard. But a book I adored of late is Follow This Thread: A maze book to get lost in by Henry Elliot. It’s a cultural history of labyrinths that is gorgeously designed: you follow Theseus’s red thread as you read about the different ways we try to lose ourselves. 


Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.

It’s difficult not to set this up as a writing assignment, curating the guests to get the best story: i.e. Sappho plus Groucho Marx plus Oprah Winfrey. But do you need to dine with the three all at once? I’d really like to sit down with the French artist Louise Bourgeois for her take on domesticity, sexuality, and the hidden corners of our minds, but I think I’d find out more about her if it was just a table for two.


Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

There should be a moratorium on using ‘journey’ to describe some personal transformation, or not even that, just a life being lived. Can’t we instead talk about a peregrination, roving, wayfaring, or wending?


Who is your favourite author?

I quite like Don Watson.


And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

I’ve always had a soft spot for child detectives. The crime rate seems to spike during school holidays, but luckily a band of plucky kids get together and outwit all the idiotic adults in their midst to restore order.


Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

The quality of flight, of giving the reader a sense of being airborne. I love it when you suddenly read a sentence that is transcendentally moving or beautiful. 


Which book influenced you most in your youth?

Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer. 


Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

I was taken to a party at Janet Malcolm’s house after my book The Tall Man was published. Someone kindly introduced me to her as very promising, yada yada, and Malcolm just stared at me with her keen, bemused eyes and didn’t utter a word … so your question has prompted me to take The Journalist and the Murderer off the shelf, but I suspect I’ll still admire it. 


Do you have a favourite podcast?

No, I need recommendations.


What, if anything, impedes your writing?

A ten- and a seven-year-old.


What qualities do you look for in critics, and which ones do you enjoy reading?

Erudition that’s not too gaudy, otherwise I’m impartial – as I’m sure they are.


How do you find working with editors?

It’s an honour getting deep into the weeds with someone who is trying to make my work stronger.


What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I think they’re a form of church for a lot of people: there’s the communion of ideas and books among other believers.


Are artists valued in our society?

I assume that’s rhetorical! I write this two days after Josh Frydenberg’s budget cut funding for the arts, music, film, theatre, and heritage by twenty per cent. Regional arts funding was slashed by sixty per cent.


What are you working on now?

A university friend printed a business card and underneath her name read ‘Varied Interests’, which sounded wonderfully dirty! Between books, I currently find myself with varied interests: I’m reading about Harry Houdini and escape artists, female political leaders, MI5, performance, and war in children’s literature.

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