Last week, I made my way to Hodges Figgis, one of the few remaining bookshops in Dublin worthy of the title.
As I exited from the LUAS (Dublin’s light rail system) on a warm summer evening, I was immediately reminded of what a great city Dublin is, when sunny weather favours us with a visit. Crossing St Stephen’s Green I made my way down Dawson Street, past the coffee shops where patrons sipped their cappuccinos. On my arrival at the book store, it was gratifying to see that a large crowd had already gathered for the launch of Patricia O’ Reilly’s new book The Interview
Patricia is the author of four other works of fiction ‘A Type of Beauty’, the story of Kathleen Newton (1854-1882), ‘Time & Destiny’, ‘Felicity’s Wedding’ and ‘Once upon a Summer’. Her other publications include non-fiction, and numerous short stories. She also lectures on writing and editing in UCD.
The book launch was opened by Eoin Purcell of New Island Publishing, and followed by guest speaker and award winning author Christine Dwyer Hickey, who spoke of her longstanding friendship and respect for the authors work.
Patricia’s book centres on a meeting which took place in Paris in 1972, between Eileen Gray, an Irish born architect and designer, and Bruce Chatwin, the Sunday Times Magazine writer and art critic. I must confess that before this evening I knew very little of either individuals, central to this book.
Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was born near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford in 1878 and spent most of her childhood between Ireland and London. A furniture designer and architect Eileen was a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture. She is best remembered for her Bibendum furniture designs, and her Dragon Chair sold for a record €21.9million Euros, the highest amount ever paid for a piece of decorative art. She died in France, aged 98.
Charles Bruce Chatwin (1940 –1989) was an English novelist and travel writer. He won the James Tait Prize for his novel On the Black Hill. He worked in the Art Department at Sotheby’s auction house, as an expert on Impressionist art.
In 1972, Chatwin was hired by The Sunday Times Magazine as an adviser on art and architecture. Chatwin, who was a huge admirer of Gray, met and interviewed the then 93 year-old in her Paris salon. While there he noticed a map of Patagonia in South America which Eileen had painted. “I’ve always wanted to go there,” he told her. ‘So have I,’ she replied, ‘go there for me.’ Two years later in 1974, he flew to Patagonia and spent the next six months in the area, a trip that resulted in the book In Patagonia. This work established his reputation as a travel writer.
Although married, Bruce like Eileen was bisexual, and was one of the first prominent men in Britain known to have contracted HIV. He died of AIDS at his home in Nice in 1989, aged 48.
While there has been much speculation as to what emerged during their meeting, we can never be sure, as the interview sadly was never published.
Patricia’s recreation of that meeting in The Interview is based on her instinct and extensive research, and obvious passion for the two strong central characters, and leaves you in no doubt as to the authenticity of this work. Her writing style allows fact and fiction to merge seamlessly, while still managing to maintain the integrity and respect that Gray and Chatwin had for each other.