Sheila Heti's Pure Colour asks the question: 'What if our purpose is to be critics?'

Sheila Heti's latest novel, Pure Colour, won the 2022 Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction. The Canadian author sat down with Q's Tom Power to talk about it.

In a Q interview, the Canadian author discussed her Governor General’s Award-winning novel

Sheila Heti in the Q studio in Toronto.
Sheila Heti in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

When her latest novel, Pure Colour, won the Governor General's Award for English-language fiction last November, Sheila Heti was finally recognized in Canada after being included in best-of lists the world over.

Pure Colour explores some of the big themes of human existence — love, death and art — through the story of a woman named Mira who loses her father and then goes into a kind of hibernation with his spirit after his death. The premise of the book is that the world we live in is merely a first draft created by God and our existential purpose is to critique it.

"We all know that it's so rare and precious and beautiful to be alive," Heti told Q's Tom Power about her idea for the story. "That consciousness and the ability to see and experience is sort of miraculous, and yet, you're just so full of criticisms, and critiques and complaints.

"I was trying to think, what could the existential reason for that be? And I sort of started thinking about the idea of like: what if our purpose is to be critics? What if the critiques that we have of the world aren't sort of a bug of being a human, but the very reason that we exist?"

A year into writing Pure Colour, Heti's own father died. To help her cope with her grief, she wrote down some of the experiences she had at that time.

"Such intense emotional experiences are so bodily, you kind of just experience them," she said. "It's very easy for your memory not to be able to hold on to them, so I just wanted to write some stuff down. And then, I think a year or two later, I realized, 'Oh, there's actually a way in which this connects to so many of the themes of the book.' …  So all these things kind of mirrored each other."

The full interview with Sheila Heti is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Sheila Heti produced by Jennifer Warren.