Author Q&A About Love: Ellen Bryson

  • February 23, 2012

A Q&A with the author of The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno.

“Bartholomew Fortuno, the World’s Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P.T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays, breathtaking theatrical performances, and live performances by Barnum’s cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career.

But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his sense of self, and his contentment within the walls of the Museum, flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the Museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer— Fortuno’s curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside-down.”

Set in 1865, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is at heart a love story, a mystery and Ellen Bryson’s debut novel.

The Independent welcomes her back.

February Q&A About Love…

Look what we owe to Shakespeare…

If music be the fruit of love, play_________?  (what would you most want to hear?)

If music be the fruit of love, play me Leonard Cohen. (Okay, his stuff might be a little twisted, but oh, that passion.)

What is the greatest love prose you’ve ever read?  Who wrote it?  Please quote a few lines?

The greatest? Impossible to say. But I do have some favorites. Jeanette Winterson wrote a wonderful book called The Passion. I just open it at random, and came up with this:

She kissed me.

“I can’t make love to you,” she said.

Relief and despair.

“But I can kiss you.”

And so, from the first, we separated out pleasure. She lay on the rug and I lay at right angles to her so that only our lips might meet. Kissing in this way is the strangest of distractions. The greedy body that clamours for satisfaction is forced to content itself with a single sensation and, just as the blind hear more acutely and the deaf can feel the grass grow, so the mouth becomes the focus of love and all things pass through it and are re-defined. It is a sweet and precise torture.

Is your imagination of love, your ability to write about it, greater than your experience?

I seriously doubt it. Love is too slippery a thing and much too complicated to ever capture. I think we write about love to try to keep it beautiful, or to make sense of its craziness, or to replace it when it’s lost. But to recreate the actual experience? Impossible.

Have you ever fallen for a character? Who?  How does he or she compare to the real love of your life?

I haven’t fallen in love with a character, but I’ve fallen for many, many authors. Every now and again, a book will burrow into me, and then I want to read everything the author has done, and I want to know as much as I can about their real lives, what they look like, who they’re married too, what their process is, how they see the world. Unlike real love, though, this love is utterly selfish. I get to stay unseen and untouchable (though not untouched) while mining what I can from them, and the break up, if it comes, is only when and how I want it.

What are the words that you can’t imagine ever being associated with love?

At first I thought, wow, there’s a ton of words I’d never connect with love, like “murder,” “torture,” “death,” or “disaster,” but then I realized, hey, these are the kinds of words we use all the time. “I love you to death.” “I’m dying to be with you.” Or, thinking of an old boyfriend, “You’re killing me.” In the end, the only words I could come up with that weren’t bringing up some kind of association were nouns like “tin can,” for example, or “light bulb.”

With a nod to Yeats – If “love comes in at the eye,” how does it go out …. (please imagine the rest of this sentence)

The only way I can finish this is to change the word “love” to “lust.”

If lust comes in at the eye, it goes out over time.

Does love have its own language?

Absolutely, and words can’t describe it.


I want this book: Politics & Prose OR

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