A classical singer before becoming a prize-winning author, Margriet de Moor’s books have been translated into 20 languages. Here the Dutch author discusses The Storm, which Kirkus called an “exquisitely composed” story of the life lines between two sisters forever changed by a catastrophic event. The novel also explores the connections between music and literature. The breath, says de Moor, is the point of intersection between the two arts, connecting the “singing voice of music with the telling voice of literature.”
You gave up your musical career because you didn’t like the “direct confrontation” with the audience. How do you envision your relationship with your audience now?
As an author, I am never afraid of my audience as I was as a singer. You can imagine how vulnerable a singer is, performing on the very moment, on the very spot. But when you present yourself in public as a writer, there is no risk any more, the work is finished, in total privacy, no one looking over your fingers.
Oh, I am very nervous as a writer…during the working process, in the confrontation with the book under my hands…sometimes for several years. But when it is finished I am so relieved and quiet and fatalistic. I did the work as well as I can. I can’t do the job better.
Reviewers of your writing use musical terms to describe it. Do you consciously employ, or unconsciously enjoy the benefits of, musical techniques as you write?
I don’t use these skills consciously; they are part of my imagination. Of one thing I am quite sure—writing is listening, you are listening to the voice of the book, the tone of the story. I have noticed that each story I wrote has its own, often very dominant voice—the style. Once it is there, this style is a big help in continuing the work. You like this voice, you are very much intrigued by it, very curious. Therefore I feel always driven to my writing table, it is not discipline. It is curiosity.
Kirkus said that this “moving dramatization of a historical catastrophe…bears disturbing resemblances to recent global occurrences.” Did the storm in the Netherlands touch your own family?
I grew up in a village at the seaside, and in 1953 the sea entered and passed the dunes along the sea boulevards. Indeed, I am familiar with the violence of the storm and the aggressiveness of water. Water is not friendly, but a dominant, inflexible, dangerous thing. In my novel The Storm there are a number of human characters, but the inhuman characters, the wind and the water, are the evil ones. This theme of the Dutch water catastrophe was already in my mind for a long time. Only when I could lay my hands on the second theme—that of the two sisters, being closely related to each other till death—could I start writing.
Your books have been translated into more than 20 languages. Could you comment on what you appreciate about being translated?
There is almost nothing I admire more than the work of a good translator. For me as a writer being translated is most thrilling—is this still my book? I only can read my novels in German, French and English translations, so most of them are becoming big mysteries abroad. But yes, I consider translation as an art, in a way similar to the art of an orchestra director, bringing the score of a musical composition to life for an audience.
For a list of 2010's best fiction books, click here.
Margriet de Moor; translated by Carol Janeway
Knopf / March / 9780307264947 / $25.95
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010