The Next Chapter

Todd Babiak on why he owns a fancy car

The author of Son of France takes the Proust questionnaire.

The author of Son of France takes the Proust questionnaire.

Todd Babiak is the author of the political thriller Son of France. (toddbabiak.com)

Todd Babiak is the author of three novels, most recently the thriller Son of France. He answered The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Name your favourite writers.

My favourite writers change all the time. At the moment I'm in love with Hilary Mantel. She can work in and out of genre so elegantly and her sentences are are very fine. She's a terrific narrative thinker. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are just ridiculously good.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I want my hair back. I used to have great, curly, moppy hair. Now I shave my head and I always look as if I am about to carjack you.

What historical figures do you most despise?

There's a type, I suppose. It's hard to do worse than the despots and mass murderers and warlords and rapists of history. But maybe the ones I despise the most are the ones that try to build an intellectual systematic ideology out of murder.

Your favourite painter?

Frida Kahlo. She depicted her culture, her self, her pain, her confusion, her desire so beautifully and courageously. She's the painter I think about the most. 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

To lose what we love, in all the ways that happens to us. My grandfather had health problems and he slid into something like dementia. He lost his reason and his wit, his personality that made him him and it frightened him so much. I wish I could go back and soothe him, help him. But I didn't know how to do it then and I don't know how to do it now. 

Tell me about your heroes in real life.

When you write and you train yourself to think like a writer, you end up hunting for flaws, for the choices that we all make that undermine our best selves. It's interesting, it's human. This kind of thinking makes it difficult to think of heroes as heroes. But I'm always attracted to people who dedicate their lives to solving unsolvable problems in art or in business or in public policy or in justice. Every now and then one of these people succeeds. 

What is your favourite journey?

I'm lucky that I get to travel with work so I see a lot of places. But maybe my favourite journey is when I come home and I'm really close to home and I start to imagine what it will be like to see my wife and my kids after not seeing them, and I open the door and I come in and they hear me and they yell,"Daddy!" I run across the floor to them. That's my favourite journey. And when there comes a time they don't want to do that anymore, it's going to break my heart.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I drive a fancy car. Novelists aren't supposed to drive the car I drive. We aren't supposed to care about cars or shoes or business class, but I care about all of that. I grew up poor and my father was often humiliated at work. I remember sitting at the dinner table, listening often to my dad and how he lost a parking spot or how he lost a promotion or how someone had done something cruel to him. I think I like to have extravagant things from time to time to make up for that.

Todd Babiak's comments have been edited and condensed.

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