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"In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women are saying ‘enough’; men must catch up and change. I wrote The Winters with this movement in the backdrop, so it was hard to avoid incorporating a feminist subtext. "
Love stories are often thought to be simple, but The Winters, Lisa Gabriele's latest novel, is no such thing. A nameless young woman becomes engaged to a wealthy, estate-owning man named Max Winters, moving out to his home in the glorious, opulent world of the Hamptons. However, the home is haunted with the memory of his first wife, and made worse by Max;s teenage daughter, Dani. The longer the woman stays, the more she discovers the dysfunctional qualities of the family, but her growing love for Max makes it impossible for her to pull herself out from the darkness. Suspense, romance, and plot twists spin together to create this magical book, based loosely on Dame Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.
Lisa shared with us some of the challenges of adapting the classic novel alongside how her feminist beliefs played a role in her writing. We also get insight into her work in television and her next novel.
In addition to writing, you also produce television. How do the jobs connect for you?
To me it’s always about ‘story’. The goal is always an honest story, well told — doesn’t matter if it’s a book I’m writing or a TV show I’m producing. And I feel lucky I get to mix it up. On a TV show you’re surrounded by people and constantly collaborating. I love that injection of energy after a few months/years alone with a book. TV work has also taught me not to be precious with words. Pacing is everything. People only have so much attention to pay to you. I don’t squander it with unnecessary ballast. Your most recent novel, The Winters, is inspired by Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Can you talk a little bit about how the latter book influenced your writing? That book has haunted me most of my life. It was my late mother’s favourite, one of a few books we actually owned growing up. (We didn’t have money so we were library people.) I came to the story first through Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. To me Rebecca just might be the perfect book, that combination of romance and horror, the tension ratcheted up until everything comes to a surprising and satisfying head at the end. Du Maurier was the first writer who showed me that a book could be both meaningful and pulpy good fun. And she was so prolific, straddling several genres, proving that you don’t have to commit to any one kind of book to have a fulsome writing career. That’s had a profound influence on my writing. In our era of specialization, our need to slot everything into a category, I aspire to that kind of prolificacy, dipping into all sorts of genres, but always providing that combination of meaningfulness and good fun reading. The protagonist in the novel is unnamed. Why did you choose to leave the narrator anonymous?
That was part of the challenge of writing The Winters as a response to Rebecca, which also has an unnamed narrator. I found this the most difficult thing to pull off, and nearly abandoned the trope at one point. It was important, if I was going to tip my hat to Rebecca, to employ this same method, to remain deeply embedded in my own narrator’s extremely narrow point of view. She is so observant, her own identity subsumed in the process of trying to figure out what’s going on around her, who is lying, who is telling the truth. Her namelessness is a way to underline her powerlessness, but it’s also a way bring the reader deep into her psyche, to let them see the world the way she sees it. The young woman and Max become infatuated with one another at the beginning of the novel, but their relationship grows far more complicated. Would you still classify the book as a type of love story? The Winters is definitely a love story; there’s real heat and passion between my protagonists, a radical departure from Rebecca, which featured a far more staid relationship, more typical of its era. But while I do think it’s a love story, it isn’t quite the one you think it is.
Photo Credit: Vanessa Heins
The book has been described as unexpectedly feminist. What do you think about this? This might have to do with how the plot diverges from Rebecca. This is not a strict retelling. I think of it like an experiment, to prove what might happen if you changed the women in a story like this, but kept the men relatively the same. This new dynamic is a comment on our modern dilemma. We’re seeing it especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Women are saying ‘enough’; men must catch up and change. I wrote The Winters with this movement in the backdrop, so it was hard to avoid incorporating a feminist subtext. And I am a feminist after all. The Asherley estate, where most of the novel is set, is described in very vivid detail. Why was it important to you to convey the majestic quality of this setting and did you struggle with it at all? Asherley is a play on Manderley, for sure, but it has its own weird history. The only struggle I had was locating Asherley in a place of moneyed history, one that might evoke the same shudders as Rebecca’s Cornwall. I based a lot of Winter’s Island on a place called Gardiner’s Island off the coast of Long Island, a huge swath of land that has been in the same family since the 1600s. Now worth more than $150 million dollars, there have been a lot of nefarious plots hatched to keep it in the same family. Once I learned about Gardiner’s Island, I had my American gothic location, plus a delicious motive for murder. How do you feel about the future for women writers?
Funny, though I did not set out to do this, I have read more books written by women than men this year. I don’t know if it’s because more women are being published or if they’re telling stories I want to read about. Either way, this is heartening and welcome. But now I’d like to see more of these books reviewed by more women. I hope it bodes well for the future. But I’m well aware of how progress for women has been a matter of ten steps forward and five back, so we shall see. Right now, there’s never been a better time to be a woman writer. There’s no dearth of inspiration at least. What is coming up next for you?
If there’s a common thread to my writing it’s the push and pull of female friendship and relationships. My next book is about a newly sober woman wrestling with her blurry past. Then she meets a young woman who wants her help, who may not be who she says she is. Let the games begin!
Follow Lisa Gabriele on Twitter and Instagram. The Winters is now available from Penguin Random House.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.