The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Cordelia Strube thinks Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov was a 'hot mess' — but still loves the character

The Montreal-raised, Toronto-based author takes our version of the Proust Questionnaire.
Cordelia Strube is the author of the novel Misconduct of the Heart. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

With 11 novels including On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light and, most recently, Misconduct of the Heart to her credit, Cordelia Strube is best known for writing about families struggling with crisis and chaos.

The Montreal-raised, Toronto-based playwright and novelist — who's been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize — has a gift for finding the humour in difficult situations and how her characters use laughter as a way to cope.

Here is Cordelia Strube answering The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire. 

Name your favourite writers. 

"I would have to start with Carson McCullers and her book The Member of the Wedding. It starred Frankie as the protagonist, who is an 11-year-old who is a very lost and isolated little person. She's feeling unjoined as though she were a member of nowhere in the world. I've sort of felt that way all my life.

"So I heavily identified with her and then I read it a few years ago to my daughter and found it equally compelling. McCullers is underrated. She's forgotten in the midst of Hemingway, et cetera. But she was an astounding writer.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

"Personally speaking, it would be not being loved. It think we can face just about everything if we love. I don't mean romantic love, I don't mean parental love, I just mean people live longer who love their pets. People live longer who love their plants.

Just the act of loving something is so therapeutic.

"Just the act of loving something is so therapeutic. It's lovely if you're loved in return, but I actually think the act of loving is more more life sustaining than being loved. We've all been loved by someone who we weren't that crazy about — and that's actually a very uncomfortable position to be in." 

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction. 

"I have so many, but I really love the tormented Russians. How can you not love Raskolnikov? He's such a hot mess in Crime and Punishment. He's another character I really responded to early — I was reading these books when I was 13 and 14. 

"Another was Pierre in War and Peace. The reason I love Pierre so much was that he keeps trying so hard. He keeps messing up but he keeps trying and I think that's what writers do. He's trying to get it right and we keep trying to get it right and it's so hard to get it right. Even after your novel is published — and I've had a lot of them published — if I look at them I see sentences that I feel still aren't right.

I respond to characters who really have a struggle but also are well-intended.

"I respond to characters who really have a struggle but also are well-intended. Not obviously malicious people but people who, like so many of us, mean well. Although sometimes even when we mean well we cause harm." 

What is your greatest fear?

"My greatest fear is that we will continue to drag our heels regarding climate change — and our children and our grandchildren will live lives of unimaginable suffering on a burning planet running out of water and air.

Cordelia Strube on her latest novel. 15:57

What is your greatest regret?

"I don't have regrets. I've made so many bad choices in my life. If I hadn't made those bad choices, I wouldn't be the person I am. 

"So we make mistakes, we suffer consequences and in my case I seem to have to make the mistake over and over and over again. But I don't beat up on myself for that because that's just part of the process of living and none of us are perfect."

What is your greatest extravagance?

"Travel. I like to immerse myself in different places and cultures to see how the other part other parts of the world live.  This is a very naughty thing because I am an environmentalist so the carbon imprint doesn't make me proud — but I only do it every few years.

I like to immerse myself in different places and cultures to see how the other part other parts of the world live.

"But I find it's really important. I love history. I love going places.  You do have to cross the ocean to really get inside ancient history and I just love that stuff."

What is your greatest achievement?

"My body of work. I've written 11 novels and counting. I've written 10 plays and I've written three screenplays. It's a lot of words. I sometimes wonder just how many words those are. So when I feel down, which everybody does, I just remember I actually have a stack of my books in my study.

"Every now and again I just look at them and say, 'Ok, you can do this. You can write another one. 

"'You wrote those. You can write another one.'"

Cordelia Strube's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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