Peirene Press are masters of translated European fiction that speaks to the heart and soul of a particular moment in time. Last year, Peirene Press took a leap and began the Peirene Now! Series, commissioning short novels about current events that are heavily shaping our world today. Last year’s breach was one of the most introspective novels I have ever read, taking the experiences of refugees in the Calais refugee camps and turning them into incredibly heartbreaking short stories. In 2017, Peirene Press have published the second book in the Peirene Now! Series – The Cut. The Cut is a brilliantly written exploration of Britain and the people who voted in the Brexit referendum and uthor Anthony Cartwright gives equal space to both sides of the debate, whilst weaving a complex web of human relationships.
The Cut is the first novel I have seen, let alone read, about Brexit. Whilst the Brexit vote and recent General Election in the UK have been heavily documented by the media, The Cut is the first literary take on the effects of the vote and the implications for the British public. The book itself was funded by a kickstarter campaign that raised £6,745 ($11,412 AUD), so it is clear that this is a book that people not only wanted to read, but wanted to have a hand in producing.
I was lucky enough to interview Meike Ziervogel, founder and commissioning publisher at Peirene Press, about The Cut. A writer herself, Meike grew up in Northern Germany, before moving the the UK in 1986. Our interview is below…
HAYLEY: First of all, thanks for taking the time out to discuss The Cut with INWORDSANDINK. So, how did the idea for the Peirene Now! Series come about?
MEIKE: Peirene’s specialises in translated fiction. This means that we can only choose from what is already out on the market in another country. Over the last few years, we started to realise that there are sometimes urgent issues we like to see addressed in literature but we couldn’t find a story about it anywhere. So we decided to set up a series of commissioned novels responding to pressing topics that are concerning us and our readers right this very moment.
HAYLEY: How important was it to you to commission a novel about Brexit?
MEIKE: The referendum has been one of the most important political events in the UK this century. It concerns us all.
HAYLEY: Why did you decide to commission the novel after Brexit rather than beforehand (as a speculative novel perhaps)?
MEIKE: Brexit hasn’t happened yet. So I commissioned the novel – and the novel was written – before Brexit, but – of course – after the decision to leave the EU.
Before the referendum I lived in a bubble. I assumed there would be no Brexit – ever. The outcome of the referendum was a shock and a wake-up call for me. I suddenly understood that I live in a divided country. I commissioned Anthony Cartwright to create a literary bridge between the two Britains that opposed each other on referendum day.
HAYLEY: What about Anthony made you decide he was the person to write this book?
MEIKE: I wanted a story that would make me see what I previously wasn’t aware of. Anthony comes from the Black Country where many people voted for Brexit. His four previous novels are all set in Dudley. Emotionally and psychologically he understands the area and he empathizes with the people who voted ‘no’ to the EU. Moreover he is a very good writer. Before I commissioned Anthony I read his fourth novel, ‘Iron Towns’ and I enjoyed it. I could see that Anthony would be bring the right sensibility to the subject matter.
HAYLEY: How did you negotiate what this book would discuss? What was that process like?
MEIKE: Anthony’s remit was to create an artistic response to what had become apparent during the referendum – the division of this country into two halves. Initially we discussed possible story lines. Then we had editorial meetings after each draft, discussing and refining the story line, imagery and characters.
HAYLEY: What about this book really spoke to you about pre- and post-Brexit Britain?
MEIKE: It was only after the book had been completed and I could take a step back from it – read it like a reader and not as an editor – that I realised how Anthony’s subconscious had thrown up the perfect image for the situation in our country. We, i.e. both sides of the divided country, The Remainers and Brexiteers, are in bed together. We have a relationship – a troubled one, yes but we have to live together. We can’t get away from each other. In The Cut neither Cairo nor Grace want their relationship to end badly. We – the Remainers and the Brexiteers – have to be careful that our relationship, too, doesn’t end badly. I believe that neither side really wants that to happen.
HAYLEY: As someone who was born in Germany, what does a book like THE CUT mean to you? What about it speaks to your experiences as a European immigrant in a country that has rejected the EU?
MEIKE: I have dual nationality. I have lived all my adult life in the UK. This is my home. I, too, need to change, in order to change the political situation. I can no longer excuse my lack of political engagement. And so I have now become a member of the Liberal Democrats and I campaigned for them during the last election.
The Cut is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.
Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Cut, and to Meike for taking the time out to answer my questions. Please note, whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2017