The Armchair Critics were excited to have Kristen den Hertog attend our meeting to discuss her book “Origin of Haloes”. Ms. den Hertog was a gracious and interesting guest. Here are the highlights of our discussion.
A common theme in den Hertog’s books is how the members of a family betray but still love one other. She is very interested in the dynamics of such family interactions. Den Hertog likes to make her characters complicated and human. Origin of Haloes is about the repercussions of a central lie. Kay is selfish and she makes bad choices, but she is still sympathetic. She shows hints of deeper insight such as her flashback in the gym. Eddie was the most tragic figure in the book. Den Hertog wanted to convey how much he and his mother loved one another but how ruined everything was despite this.
Mythology is another common theme in this author’s work. She likes to contrast the ordinary with the extraordinary events in life. This novel has the threads of the Olympic games and of the life of the Trudeau family running through it. It draws the connection between the little town of Deep River and what is going on in the larger world. And it shows that even mythological families have their squabbles. While working on this book , den Hertog saw news of Pierre Trudeau’s death in the paper at the same time as coverage of the Sydney Olympics. The sections of the novel dealing with the Olympics also provide the reader with a break from the heavy emotions of the central plotline.
Den Hertog says that as she writes, her subconscious links events back to other parts of the story. She doesn’t know the ending of a book when she begins, but instead starts with a character or a bit of dialogue. In the case of this book, the actual origin of haloes goes back to pagan times and she recalled this discussion from mythology. The similarity between Olympic rings and haloes only became obvious to her later on. Den Hertog struggled with the final scenes of the book and whether to reveal what happened to Joe. In real life you are always astonished by what people do, and you think “how could they behave like that?” Life is surprising and people are both good and bad. Not knowing what happens to some of the characters is what keeps the reader thinking about the book and wondering about the relationships in it after the book is finished.
Den Hertog has used a different writing technique for each of her four books to date. Her first book was started after attending a writers workshop and having the other participants observe that her short stories were interconnected. This collection of stories was rewritten to become “Water Wings”. Her second novel was written while completing a creative writing course at the University of Toronto. She was required to submit a detailed outline, write chapters on a fixed deadline and write the book in a very structured way. It was uncomfortable but successful. While writing “Origin of Haloes”, she combined both of these approaches.
Her current book, (a non-fiction description of the life of her grandparents in the Netherlands during WWII), was written in collaboration with her sister. They e-mailed installments back and forth and found this was a good technique for providing a cool down period after seeing how the editing had been done by the other writer!
If she had to pick one of her books as a favourite, den Hertog would choose “Perpetual Ending” She enjoys magic realism (her favourite novel is the One Hundred Years of Solitude) and likes the way this book has fables successfully interwoven through it. We thank Ms. den Hertog for attending our meeting. It was a highlight of our 20th anniversary year.