Why Karen Connelly tackled love, lust and sex in her latest novel

Karen Connelly talks to Shelagh Rogers about her new novel The Change Room and what inspired her change of pace.
Karen Connelly is the author of the novel The Change Room. (karenconnelly.ca/Random House Canada)

Karen Connelly is a writer who has often focused on human rights and people's struggles against oppression in books like The Lizard Cage and Burmese Lessons. But she takes her new novel, The Change Room,  in a completely different direction. In this novel, Connelly explores the appetite for pleasure — not only in terms of love and sex, but also food and beauty. 

Connelly spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her new book and why she chose to take a break from writing about heavy topics. This interview originally aired on Sept. 11, 2017.

Writing what made her happy

"I decided one day to just write something that made me happy. I wrote a very beautiful, fun sex scene between two women. I was writing just for pleasure and just wanting to make myself happy and playing with words and playing with the idea of desire and erotics. But then afterwards I was like, 'Wow that actually works, that was good. Was it good for you? It was so good for me!'  I thought, couldn't I try to write a book about pleasure, or that explored pleasure? Even transgressive pleasure — so pleasure outside of a heterosexual marriage, pleasure outside of what what we think is appropriate, using words that we don't necessarily think are appropriate. How could I push the boundaries wider?"

On creating boundary-pushing characters

"I decided that's a place where I can definitely push the boundary. I'm going to make this person a sex worker, but not the stereotypical sex worker. She will be a self-realized, fairly happy person with her own struggles, and her own personality, and her own life, but she will not be, in any way, shape or form, a victim."  

On main character Eliza being, 'every woman'

"I really wanted to capture the world of the women I know. And my own married, heterosexual — because I know a lot of lesbian and gay couples have also — this work-a-day, 9-to-5, very structured life, in which there's actually no time for anything, never mind sex. There's barely time to read a book or take a shower that's longer than three-and-a-half-minutes. So I wanted to explore what I see around me. It's the first book I've written, where I take my own country as my starting place. My work has always been a reflection of other places, and other cultures and often other languages, so I wanted to learn how to write about Canada by writing a book that is set here."

Karen Connelly's comments have been edited and condensed.