Lemoine’s debut novel, The Margot Affair (Hogarth, June.), follows the travails of the secret child of a stage actress and French politician.
How did this book come to be?
The book is inspired by events in my own life and the real-life story of former French president Francois Mitterrand, who had a hidden daughter who was only revealed to the public when she was 19 years old. Also, a few months before I began to write the novel, my father told me he had a second family and my parents were just starting the divorce process. I had just started my MFA in fiction, and what I wanted to do was take this very private upheaval that I was going through but explore it in a heightened way by raising the stakes.
Margot idealizes her father, but the novel hinges on the interactions between Margot and her mother, Anouk. How would you describe their relationship?
When I started writing I was much more interested in Margot’s relationship with her father. But as the novel progressed what became most exciting to me was exploring the mother-daughter relationship. Margot and Anouk have an intense, fraught, complicated relationship that’s very much shrouded in the secret that they are carrying. When that secret becomes a burden for Margot, she feels like her mother doesn’t understand or empathize with her struggles. As the novel progresses, Margot is better able to grasp the sacrifices her mother made, as well as Anouk’s tension between motherhood and professional ambition. Hopefully at the end of the novel they’ve both come to a more forgiving understanding of each other.
Tell me about the anecdotes and stories you use throughout the novel.
Yes, there are story interludes throughout the book: the story of the chef and her daughter who dies, an entire chapter told from Anouk’s point of view, and of course the film that Margot’s friend Juliette is making. One of the things that storytelling offers for me during these interludes was the ability to open up the narrative to other characters so it wouldn’t just be Margot’s point of view.
There’s so much food in this book! How are the characters relationships and emotions connected with the food they eat and make?
I think about food often because I’m also a cookbook editor and food was a big part of my family life. Although I never set out to write about food, it was going to seep into the book one way or another! In this book, food is a way to communicate, care for, seduce, and share pleasure with others. Food is a way for my characters to express affection and feelings other than through words. Which is just as it is in my own life.