By Leslie Lindsay
A charming and delightful read about a neuroatypical woman at a party, the man she meets, and her magical, slightly quirky view of the world.
~WEEKEND READING|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
A ROOM CALLED EARTH (Penguin Original, August 18 2020) by debut author Madeleine Ryan is at once hilarious and heartwarming. The plot is fairly straightforward: A young autistic woman in Melbourne, Australia attends a house party.
She navigates the festivities, has brief exchanges with others, and meets an intriguing man in line for the bathroom. Just like this man, we are invited back to the narrator’s unique and magical home. This premise, however, belies what a gift this book is, for what appears to be an ordinary night out is, through the prism of her mind, extraordinary.
This is such a delightful and charming read, a glittering glimpse into the sparkling and strikingly intense and unique mind.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Madeleine Ryan to the author interview series.
I grew up in a household with journalists, and for a long time I didn’t want to be a writer, even if I enjoyed writing immensely. I wanted to be an actor. My parents were (and still are) film and television critics. So, naturally, I wanted to be the person that they were watching, and adoring.
Then around the age of 20 I went to a psychic, and when I entered the room she was like, “ah, the actress!” and I felt super validated, before she corrected me, and said, “oh, no, no. You’re an actress in everyday life, and in all of your relationships. You’re a writer and a director when it comes to what you’re supposed to create in this lifetime.”
Then, as my twenties unfolded, I kept being drawn toward writing more, and more. I also made life choices that, although I didn’t realise it at the time, were leading me in the direction of writing, too. Like, my partner and I moved away from the city, and deeper into rural Victoria. I became a vegan. I was diagnosed as autistic. I weaned myself off hormonal birth control, and I adopted animals.
It was only after all of that that fiction started calling out to me, and I had the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical space to listen to and care for it.
The protagonist has a deep connection to nature. How do you think our relationship to nature as humans impacts our connections to ourselves?
I think how we relate to nature parallels how we relate to ourselves. So if we’re accepting of nature, and it’s inherent cycles, and idiosyncrasies, we’re more likely to be accepting of ourselves, and our own inherent cycles, and idiosyncrasies. If we fight nature, and try to control it, and manipulate it, and exploit it, there are probably ways in which we’re trying to fight, control, manipulate and exploit ourselves – and each other.
Nature is very revealing.
“Ryan’s novel covers less than 24 hours, but by book’s end, readers are left feeling remarkably bonded with this fiercely independent young woman . . . Her sharp, unfiltered thoughts—compellingly presented by Australian director and debut novelist Ryan, who herself is #OwnVoices neurodiverse—never seem to pause as she skips between describing her present and divulging her past, meticulously processing her actions, and regarding herself and others from unexpected perspectives . . . Her piercing insight is relentless.”
You chose to center much of the novel around a house party. What led you to explore this type of social gathering over others?
There’s something very intimate and very disarming about a house party. It’s more vulnerable and exposing than an event that’s orchestrated in a public space. On an unconscious level we probably enter a house party and, to some extent, feel more at home.
I also see houses, mansions, apartments, and all of our personal living spaces, as beautiful reflections of our psyches. They’re extensions of us. Communal spaces are probably more of an extension of our collective consciousness, and its preferences, and values. Whereas someone’s home, and all of its rooms, and centre pieces, and darkened corners, and sun-filled spaces, is symbolic for who they are – and how we enter into it mirrors who we are.
There are so many ways A ROOM CALLED EARTH broadens the conversation about representations of autism in literature. Are there other books, plays, or even television shows, or films that feature autistic characters that you enjoyed?
I think that every portrayal of autism has its place. Netflix original series Atypical, and Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, and Rachel Israel’s 2017 film Keep the Change are all important, eye-opening portrayals of autistic people, and I’m super grateful that they exist.
Because a dynamic story is a dynamic story, no matter who is at the centre of it, or what labels you could use to categorise them.
That said, there haven’t been many depictions of autism that I’ve related to especially deeply, or that I’ve been able to see myself in. Obviously, this raises the question of whether or not the value of a film, theatre, book or television character rests on whether or not we can see ourselves in them. Maybe it’s perfectly natural to only see a bit of ourselves here, and some of ourselves there, and nothing more. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations of what a TV show, film, or protagonist in a piece of literature might be able to offer me! I’m not sure.
Although, it’s probably important that I have unrealistic expectations. They keep me fresh.
How do you hope literature will evolve to feature more neurodiverse authors and characters? What impact do you think this will have for readers and the autistic community at large?
Neurodiverse authors and characters help open everybody up to different ways of relating to the world, which is the single greatest and most undervalued power on the planet. How we see ourselves, the earth, and other people, defines every experience that we have, everything we create, everything we believe, and everything we participate in perpetuating.
Wanting to expand on and develop our perspective is the key to prosperity, wisdom, peace, and all of the good stuff. Allowing for and welcoming every complexity, and nuance, is a gift, not something to resist, or fear.
And, in my experience, when neurodiverse and neurotypical minds come together, the results are very, very magical. This book is an example of that. A Room Called Earth wouldn’t exist without the input of a whole range of people, and a whole range of viewpoints. Because in honouring one viewpoint fully, and with love, you harness the power to honour many.
Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook.
For more information, to connect with Madeleine Ryan via social media, or to purchase a copy of A ROOM CALLED EARTH, please visit:
I was reminded, in part, of the delightful story of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER (Hazel Prior), which also features a neuroatypical character, but also GINNY MOON (Benjamin Ludwig), OTHER PEOPLE’S PETS by R.L. Maizes has a similar style and cadence; also, the blunt, simplistic (but not simple) storytelling style of Emma Donoghue’s ROOM came to mind, though the premise is much different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Madeleine Ryan is an Australian writer, director and author. Her articles and essays have appeared in SBS, The Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, Vice, Bustle, Lenny Letter, and the New York Times, and she is currently working on the screen adaptation of A Room Called Earth. Madeleine lives in rural Victoria.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this fall. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin Random House and used with permission. Author image credit: Hector H MacKenzie. Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook]