Monday January 25, 2016

Camilla Gibb on her favourite writers and finding perfect happiness

Camilla Gibb's memoir, This Is Happy, is on the shortlist for the RBC Taylor Prize. The winner will be announced on March 7.

Camilla Gibb's memoir, This Is Happy, is on the shortlist for the RBC Taylor Prize. The winner will be announced on March 7. (Doubleday Canada)

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Camilla Gibb is the author of four novels and, most recently, a memoir. This Is Happy is a chronicle of a tough passage in Gibb's life — a bad breakup, a birth and a slow rebuilding of her family. In 2015, the book appeared on many lists of notable books of the year, and this year, it's on the shortlist of the RBC Taylor Prize. Here, Camilla Gibb answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Name your favourite writers.

Haruki Murakami is a writer who can make me believe that cats can talk. No one else can make me believe cats can talk. David Mitchell. He's the writer I'd like to be. He's gymnastic in his ability.

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

I like a flawed hero. There was a character in Oscar Hijuelos' A Simple Habana Melody — a portly, repressed homosexual man. A composer. Unlikable on the surface, but with such mysterious depths. Flawed in every way. 

What phrase do you most overuse?

The phrase I overuse always involves the world empathy, whether it's empathic failure, empathic leap... I'm always thinking about that possibility of connection between people — where it fails, where it succeeds. 

The quality you most admire in a man?

I think a moral courage. A courage to go beyond what might be expected, or what's socially acceptable. Governed by a moral compass.

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Empathy. There I go, overusing empathy! The ability to imagine your way into the experience of another.

What is your favourite journey?

A journey I only once took, but that I take again and again in my imagination. Descending 6,000 feet from the outskirts of Nairobi down into the bottom of the Rift Valley in Kenya. The rift valley dotted with extant volcanoes. The drama of that drop, the total change in environment. With a Peter Gabriel soundtrack in the background.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be kayaking on a very serene lake, with my daughter in the kayak between my legs, hands on the same paddle.

What's your greatest achievement?

I hope it's something I have yet to accomplish, which would suggest that I have as much life before me as past.

Camilla Gibb's comments have been edited and condensed.

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