TIME Books

Paula Hawkins on Why Her Book The Girl on the Train Is Being Called ‘The Next Gone Girl’

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins Riverhead Books/Penguin

One of the most anticipated books of 2015, The Girl on the Train, hits shelves Jan. 13

As Rachel takes the commuter train to London every morning, she daydreams about the lives of an attractive couple she often sees breakfasting on their deck. As a sort of therapy to recover from a devastating divorce, she dubs the couple she watches Jess and Jason, conjuring a perfect suburban fantasy for them. Then one day she sees something shocking happen in their yard. She tries to go to the police, but struggles to explain why she’s observed this couple for so long, and proves an unreliable witness because of her struggles with alcoholism. She then sets out to solve the mystery of what she saw that day — and fill in the blanks from her missing memories of that night.

That’s the premise of Paula Hawkins much-anticipated debut thriller, Girl on the Train, which critics are comparing to Gillian Flynn’s smash hit Gone Girl. Though Hawkins has written women’s fiction under a pseudonym, this is her first try at a mystery novel; it has already been optioned by DreamWorks for a possible film.

Hawkins spoke with TIME about taking a risk by using an unlikable narrator, her Hitchcockian inspirations and why maybe folks shouldn’t be lumping Girl on the Train and Gone Girl together.

TIME: How did you get the idea for the premise of the story—a girl watching this couple she doesn’t know outside their house as she passes them on the train every day, and then one day she sees something suspicious?

Paula Hawkins: I commuted into the center of London every day, and I used to sit on the train. For parts of the journey I would go quite close to people’s homes, and I always liked that — being able to see inside people’s houses and imagining what those people were like. And then I was sort of idly wondering what one would do if one saw something shocking. If you saw, I don’t know, an act of violence or something. Would you tell anyone? Would you be able to actually do anything about it? So that’s basically where the germ of the story came.

You make it sound rather romantic, creating this imaginary world as you daydream on the train, but in the book it comes off as a little bit creepy.

Absolutely. You feel like you’ve made a connection with these people. You see their houses or maybe a painting on their wall that you like and think, “Oh that’s nice. I’d probably like those people.” And then you have to stop yourself and think, “You don’t know them. You’re just imagining.”

How did you decide to create a narrator that was not only unreliable but also rather unlikable?

She’s a character I had in my head for awhile. She’s extremely unreliable, obviously, because of her drinking problem. She’s not just unreliable to other people or the reader — she can’t even trust herself. She can’t trust her own memory; she can’t trust her own judgment.

But we’re seeing her at her absolute worst, I think. So for me, she’s actually a person where there’s probably plenty of good things about her, and I hope those things start to come through. And yes, for some people I think that may be off-putting, but I hope that she has enough character and enough backstory that she’s a credible figure, if not a likable one.

How did you make sure she was relatable or sympathetic?

Well, I think there’s still some fight in her even though she’s a bit hopeless. She still has grit underneath all that. You can see glimpses of the person that she used to be. You can see moments of tenderness. And I think some people will identify with the very real depression that comes with something like infertility or the loss of a partner. So I think there are certain aspects of her character that people will be able to sympathize with. But she’s also frustrating in the particular way that addicts are, where they just can’t seem to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over.

Obviously, her problem with alcohol affects her memory, which in turn affects how much we know as we’re reading. Did you do any research on blacking out from alcohol and how drinking can affect a person’s memory?

I have read about it, and the thing about blackouts is, there still is quite a lot about blackouts induced by alcohol use that I think we just don’t know. It’s not completely understood why some people get them and other people don’t. That’s as far as I understand— there are probably scientists who will tell me I’m wrong. [laughs]

But it was quite useful to me because I could have parts where she does remember things and parts where she doesn’t. Also memory loss can be affected by a host of other things as well like a traumatic incident or a blow to the head. So the blackout is a useful device for the thriller writer, but there are obviously other factors at play when it comes to memory.

MORE: The 100 Best Young Adult Books of all Time

There’s been a long tradition in thrillers of people trying to recover lost chunks of time. Were you inspired by any particular story?

I don’t know if there was a specific film or anything. Things like the movie Memento are interesting to me because our memories of the things we’ve done and how we’ve behaved form our notion of who we are, what our character is. So if part of that were missing, what does that actually say about you? And what does it say about your sense of responsibility for things if you can’t remember them? I think that whole area is really fascinating.

I grew up really loving the Alfred Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes, where the main character gets a knock on the head at the beginning of the movie and then she has to piece together some events she can’t quite remember while she’s on this train ride. Nobody really believes her, and it seems like Rachel is put in a similar predicament.

That’s an interesting one because that’s Hitchcock, isn’t it? I was going for a slightly Hitchcock-style atmosphere. I did want that feeling of paranoia, self-doubt, suspicion. In that movie, everyone thinks that woman is making things up, and I wanted this book to have a similar sense. You can do fascinating things with the tricks memory can play and tell. People can come to believe things which didn’t happen at all if they’re told them enough times.

Why did you decide to use three different narrators and switch among them?

I actually started out just writing from Rachel’s perspective, but I thought that I needed to get inside Megan’s head as well, so I introduced her. Then, later on, I decided to write from three. For me, a lot of the book is about perceptions of people and how they change and how they can be completely off. So I think it was interesting to see these women all looking at each other and the men in their lives and make judgments. And then we can see it from somebody else’s viewpoint, and we can really understand the assumptions that are being made and the preconceptions that different people have.

Many of the male characters in the book are abusive in some way, whether it be emotionally or physically. Why did you choose to tell those stories?

I think it’s a book where nobody comes out of it looking particularly squeaky clean. For example, we see Scott from Megan’s viewpoint, and he’s controlling. When Rachel looks at him, she sees something completely different. But yes, you’re right — none of them are behaving in particularly good ways.

I think Scott feels his relationship is very precarious. She’s so flighty and restless all the time. So his controllingness is trying to hold on to her — not that I’m endorsing that as a way to behave. But I think those behaviors are quite common, and you can understand them while still saying that’s not a nice way to treat someone.

The three women in the story also share this anxiety over bearing children and parenting. How did that emerge as a theme in the book?

Well I think that they’re all at a point in their lives — late 20s, early 30s — where your decisions about having children, not having children, the way you raise them are really brought to the fore, aren’t they? People are constantly talking about it all the time. And, in a way I think perhaps doesn’t apply to men, people make judgments about you and your character based on decisions you make about motherhood. If you have lots of children, you’re feckless. If you decide not to have children, you’re selfish. People make all these value judgments about something that’s actually extremely personal.

And then you also have things like infertility which can be incredibly traumatic for people. So it’s something that ties them all together and it’s again about looking at how we judge people and the assumptions we make about people based on things we see from the outside.

MORE: Is Gone Girl Feminist or Misogynist?

I keep seeing the book being compared to Gone Girl. I’m wondering where that originated.

I don’t know who said it first, whether it was a publisher or reviewer or who. It wasn’t me. [laughs] But quite a few things are compared to Gone Girl, aren’t they? There are constantly people going, “Is this the next Gone Girl?”

It’s flattering to be compared to Gone Girl because I think Gone Girl is a great book. I actually think that atmosphere of the book is closer to Hitchcock. But I suppose both books have a very flawed female protagonist at their heart and are women who maybe are not what they seem. Our first view of Rachel is that she’s just this commuter going back and forth, she’s just another girl on the train, writing lists or looking at her phone. And as we get into the story, we realize she’s behaving in quite extraordinary ways.

Do you ever worry that all female thriller writers are being lumped together?

Yeah, I do. I don’t know if this would have happened if the book had been written by the man. I don’t know if those same types of comparisons are made for books written by men. Certainly, there is a tendency to lump women who write similar types of books together, and it’s not just in crime, is it? Women’s fiction is supposedly a whole genre of itself. There’s no male equivalent.

Your book has been optioned by Dreamworks. When you were writing it did you think of what a movie version would look like?

It has, and I can’t give you any more detail than that, I’m afraid. All I know is that they have it, they hopefully are working on it as we speak, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. Obviously it’s really exciting and would be amazing, but we shall see.

When I write, I imagine places more than people. I can see in my head the journey that Rachel takes all the time very clearly. I don’t imagine the character’s faces or anything like that. People keep asking me, “Who would you cast as Rachel?” And I can’t think of who I would. I would obviously been a terrible casting director. I thought at one point Michelle Williams might make a good Megan — the small, pretty, blonde delicate type of person. And I like her as an actress. She has great range.

TIME Books

See These Weird New Images of Your Favorite Harry Potter Characters

Scholastic Harry Potter
Jim Kay—Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Draco Malfoy

J.K. Rowling has approved all the illustrations herself

It’s easy to think of Harry Potter’s best (and arguably smartest) friend Hermione solely as Emma Watson, the actress who played her in the movies. But the publishers of J.K. Rowling’s beloved young wizard series decided to give Ms. Granger and company a completely new look. And on Tuesday, a few more re-designs came on display for the first time.

Bloomsbury UK and Scholastic in the U.S. have released new images from the first fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which will be hit shelves on October 6. The new edition will be a hardcover with illustrated endpapers and illustrations by Jim Kay throughout.

J.K. Rowling met with Kay and had approval during the process, according to Bloomsbury UK publicity. “She’s definitely seen the majority of the illustrations,” a spokesperson for the publisher says. In addition to the new release of what Hagrid, Hermione, Malfoy and Ron will look like in the book, images of The Boy Who Lived himself and Hogwarts were released in December. See what they look like below.

Read next: Everything J.K. Rowling Revealed About Harry Potter in 2014

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Books

You’ve Never Seen Harry Potter Like This Before

See new images from the first fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

TIME movies

Fifty Shades of Grey Soundtrack Proves a Tease for Fans

Steamy music from the upcoming film has already been selling like crazy

We’re still weeks away from Fifty Shades of Grey hitting theaters, but the soundtrack has already started stoking the fire of fans’ expectations.

The soundtrack includes new or remixed tracks by Annie Lennox, Jessie Ware, Sia and Beyonce (that’s a remix of “Crazy in Love” in the trailer). The film will also feature the classic songs “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones and “Witchcraft” by Frank Sinatra.

Two tracks from the film — from Ellie Goulding and The Weeknd — have already been released and USA Today reports that they’ve both already been a hit with fans.

Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” was released earlier this month and has recorded sales of nearly 80,000 on iTunes:

The Weeknd’s “Earned It” was released in December has been purchased more than 100,000 times on iTunes:

Though the music for the upcoming film — which is an adaptation of E.L. James’ sexy best-seller that was panned by many critics — has been embraced by fans, Mike Knobloch, president of film music and publishing for Universal Pictures, told USA Today that not all the acts approached for the film were eager to jump on board at first. He said, “but as we brought them into the cutting room and they saw sequences and talked to [director] Sam Taylor-Johnson, they learned more about the aesthetic and the story — that it wasn’t just a kinky, sexy thing, that it was really this romance between a young girl and a broken guy.”

The entire Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack goes on sale on Feb. 10 and the film hits theaters on Feb. 13.

[USA Today]

TIME Books

Gillian Flynn Is Open to Doing a Gone Girl Sequel

Gillian Flynn
Lloyd Bishop—NBC/Getty Images Gillian Flynn

Amazing Amy 2.0 could be in the works

Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn may not have won for Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes — but she may get a second chance at that prize down the line. The author of the 2012 best seller, told the New York Daily News that she is open to paying a return visit to the embattled, embittered Dunne family for a sequel to the blockbuster crime thriller.

Flynn, speaking at a BAFTA event, told the News: “There could be a sequel at some point if everyone is game to get the gang back together, it could be really fun a few years from now.”

“We could pick it up and see what those crazy Dunnes are up to a few years down the road and if they got on — not well I don’t think,” said Flynn (in what can only be considered an understatement). Perhaps Amy and Nick Dunne’s child will be plotting the psychological torture of a playmate who stole a favorite toy? Perhaps the Dunnes have a dark plan to get their kid into an elite kindergarten? Whatever nefarious scheme they’re are up to, fans the world over will be eager to read it.

While Flynn hasn’t written the book or the sequel’s screenplay yet, she’s already started casting the new film: “I would have to have the exact same people to do it — I would want Rosamund, Ben and Fincher to do it.” If the sequel happens and is as exciting as the original, be sure to keep an eye out at the 2019 Golden Globes.

TIME Books

E-books Go Out of Fashion As Book Sales Revive

bookshelves
Getty Images

U.K. bookstores report increased demand for physical books

British book stores have good news for bibliophiles, reporting that more people have been buying physical books recently. What’s more, sales of e-readers have apparently slumped according to their reports. Waterstones, a U.K. book store chain which also sells Amazon’s Kindle, told the Financial Times that demand for the e-reader has all but disappeared.

Sales for physical books at Waterstones were also up 5 percent last month, which the company chalked up to its store renovations and allowing store managers to take more control in order to tailor inventory to local tastes.

Meanwhile Sam Husain, the chief executive of Foyles, a London bookstore chain, also told the FT that sales of paper books were up 11 percent this Christmas over last year and that sales of Barnes & Noble’s e-reader, the Nook, were “not as impressive as one would expect them to be.”

“The rapid growth of ebook sales has quite dramatically slowed and there is some evidence it has gone into reverse,” said Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis. Though it’s hard to say what exactly has caused the apparent slow-down of digital book sales, this does spell good news for fans of physical books in the U.K.: Waterstones now plans to open a dozen stores new stores this year.

[FT]

TIME Television

Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein: The Word ‘Hipster’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore

Carrie Brownstein
Rob Latour—Invision/AP Carrie Brownstein

The Sleater-Kinney guitarist talks the new season of Portlandia and the band's first new album in a decade

As the co-star and co-creator of IFC’s comedy series Portlandia — which returns for its fifth season Thursday night — Carrie Brownstein can make you laugh. But she can also make you cry, whether that’s heartfelt tears (she had a role in Amazon’s drama Transparent, a role creator Jill Soloway wrote with her in mind) or happy ones (her influential band Sleater-Kinney returns with the long-awaited No Cities to Love on Jan. 20). TIME caught up with the multi-talented star to talk about the Portland stereotypes she fits and why Sleater-Kinney will never pull a Beyoncé.

TIME: You do comedy in Portlandia, you do drama in Transparent, Sleater-Kinney is making a comeback, you’ve got a memoir coming out. Is there anything you can’t do?
Carrie Brownstein: Based on statistics alone, there’s so many things I can’t do. You only named four things out of a million possibilities! Really, I’m probably failing.

What is your hidden non-talent?
I’m a horrible visual artist, I can’t draw or paint or sketch. And I’m a terrible cook. I don’t have any acumen for plumbing or mathematics.

Well, who needs math, anyway?
Yeah!

The new season has a flashback to a ‘90s dance-off between beloved Portlandia characters Toni and Candace, the feminist bookstore owners. Have you been waiting 20 years to bust out those moves?
Yeah, I mean we had our Portlandia premiere screening on Monday in Los Angeles, and when I watched that scene on a big screen, it did remind me of the dancing you do alone in your bedroom when you’re a teenager. It was the ultimate fantasy sequence for my younger self.

I hope you choreographed it yourselves.
We choreographed it improvisationally on the spot!

How do you not break watching Fred down to “I got the power!”
Oh, there’s plenty of breaking. Luckily, when he’s dancing, the camera is on the back of my head.

Part of that flashback was to flesh out the Portlandia universe and focus more on single stories instead of sketches. What challenges did that bring?
We set out to make each season different from the last, but when you are staring down the fifth season of a show and there are so many different, wonderful sketch shows on television — whether it’s Key & Peele or Amy Schumer or Kroll Show — there’s just an awareness that it’s a very strong medium right now. We’re fortunate that we have the freedom with IFC that we can be very elastic with the form. I feel like sketches is covered right now. We just wanted to keep pushing ourselves. It’s a challenge from the time we write to the time we film. It changes the whole nature of production and performance, but I think it was a challenge that shaped the whole season, and I think we’re really happy with how it turned out.

How else do you keep the show fresh creatively several years in?
The missive that we had for each other was to take these characters we’re fond of and whose lives we’ve only seen fleeting moments of [and not] press play for a few seconds. With a sketch, you hit pause, and you’re not even getting a sense of who these people are. We decided to speak in sentences instead of phrases — I feel like the language is the same, but the form is longer and has more room for subtlety and nuance. That was really what we set out to do. That’s how we kept the stakes high, by just knowing that we might fail. That sense of undermining yourself and taking steady ground and making it uncertain again is important in pushing things forward.

What is the most stereotypical Portland thing about you?
The fact that I have a closet full of clothes that are very practical. Portland has a lot of weather-specific activity clothing, and I try to get rid of those things — I never bring them to New York or L.A. When I go home to Portland, I can’t believe how many Gore-Tex jackets I own, or vests or flannels or hiking shoes. It’s just a prerequisite when you live there, that you have to fill up your closet with these clothes. You could go camping at any time. Someone might spring a camping trip on you in the middle of a dinner. It’s very strange.

That’s my worst nightmare.
Oh my God, it’s the worst. That’s a deal breaker for a friendship.

Wait, so you have all this stuff, but you don’t like the outdoors?
No, I do outdoorsy things, I totally do. I don’t camp, though. I hike a lot. The cliche thing about me is that I really actually love the outdoors — I don’t know if that’s really a cliche. I like hiking. It’s how I reset myself. It’s part of my methodology of thinking and working, to just leave and go on walks.

Are you able to have a normal life there? Do people just shout catchphrases at you while you go grocery shopping?
That happens, but it’s flattering, I think. It’s not something you take for granted. I think it’s so rare to have anything you do enter cultural conversation, so when somebody shouts a catchphrase to you, that’s definitely not something I’m annoyed by. I think it’s very sweet, but I do have a normal life. Portland is very neighborhood-based. I keep things kind of insular there. I go to the same grocery store, the same bars, the same restaurants. I’m a little bit of a hermit there.

Have you gone incognito on a one of the Portlandia location walking tours?
Oh goodness, no I haven’t.

You can pop out at the end, like, “Surprise, it was me all along!”
I already feel like a tourist attraction there sometimes! There’s a weird surreality for people, if they’re visiting Portland from out of town and they run into Fred or I in Portland because it’s like some statute or landmark come to life. It’d be like going to New York during the Seinfeld era or something you just so associate with the city. Portland is a smaller place, obviously, but it’s a little surreal for us, too, I think.

Does the word hipster mean anything anymore?
You know, I feel like hipster is one of those terms that no one ever knew exactly what it meant. It plays into everyone’s insecurities of someone else being cooler than they are, or trying to be cooler than they are. I always felt the term was insufficient in this way. To me, it was like, “Describe something that you yourself felt like you couldn’t pull off.” It felt sort of derogatory, but at the same time, there was the element of, “Should I be wanting to do that?”

So it’s a self defense thing — dismiss something so you don’t have to deal with trying to keep up with it?
Exactly! That’s what I mean. “Oh, I guess I can’t pull that off, so that person’s a hipster, and I’m not.” But yeah, I don’t think it means anything anymore.

You finished the new Sleater-Kinney album before you announced it. You must be good at keeping secrets.
It’s strange, I feel like we were less secretive than we should have been. We were talking to friends, and somehow our friends kept it a secret. It’s a miracle that it stayed a secret. We recorded it at a studio in San Francisco. There were bands recording in the other room — there’s usually an A-studio and a B-studio. Of course we asked people to be discreet, but I’m very surprised. We were never interested in doing a proper reunion tour. It was always going to be about the record. But we didn’t want to announce it until we were certain that we had made something worthy of being put out into the world. There was a chance, even during recording, when we weren’t exactly sure what this was going to be. That’s why we kept it a secret. But I am a little surprised that it worked.

You could always do it Beyoncé-style.
Maybe. That’s definitely an option, but I think we want it to be just slightly more deliberate. And no one is Beyoncé — you just have to give her props for that.

TIME Books

Meg Wolitzer: My Debt to Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath and Meg Wolitzer
Bettmann/Corbis; Meg Wolitzer Plath (left, circa 1957) and Wolitzer (pictured during her college years) both studied at Smith College. Both have written about women’s struggles to define themselves.

When novelist Meg Wolitzer began writing Belzhar, her first book for a YA audience, she turned to Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar

The first time I read Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, it was an emotional, chaotic experience. Her narrator has a nervous breakdown while a college student and attempts suicide, as Plath had. The story is so viscerally real and imaginable that I, then a teenager, was immersed. Plath, who recovered from her breakdown but committed suicide at age 30, left behind one powerful novel, many brilliant poems, a good deal of short fiction and voluminous journals. But it was in The Bell Jar that she used the detailed landscape of a novel to look bravely at her illness, and she compelled readers to look with her.

Flash-forward several decades. I had embarked upon writing a young-adult novel in which The Bell Jar plays a part. Belzhar (pronounced bel-jhar, a play on Plath’s title) is about a troubled girl, Jam Gallahue, who tragically loses her boyfriend and is sent to a therapeutic boarding school where she’s placed in a class that reads only one writer over the whole semester. This year, the teacher has decided they will read Plath.

Plath told the truth in The Bell Jar—I don’t mean only the autobiographical truth, though that was part of it—but also a larger truth about how emotional suffering can make people feel isolated under their own airless glass jars. Because of this truth, young readers like me were deeply affected and in some ways transformed. Had Plath been a famous suicide but not such a fine writer, her reputation would likely have fizzled out after her death. But she was uncommonly good, so she stuck. Teenagers read her when I was that age, and I sense that many teenagers still read her now.

And so, for research purposes, I read Plath again. But now, instead of responding only to the young narrator’s detachment and despair, as I had long ago, I also found myself, to my surprise, responding to the woman Sylvia Plath would never become. The writer who would never continue to mature with age. The mother who would never see her children off into the world. The person who wouldn’t have the chance to live a long life.

Younger me tended to take the short view, feeling everything along with the narrator as it happened and never thinking about that nebulous thing called the future. But now, as a middle-aged woman, I definitely took the long view. It occurs to me that not only readers but also writers often fall into the habit of taking either the short or the long view when they work. I’m a novelist whose fiction has mainly been for adults; my most recent adult book, The Interestings, lavishes a lot of time on its characters when they’re young. Then it keeps going, following them from age 15 all the way into their 50s—an age I can relate to well these days, as my children have left home, and I must remind myself to schedule my yearly mammogram.

But Belzhar, a novel about adolescents written for adolescent readers (although these days plenty of adults read YA too), takes place over the course of only one semester at boarding school. And while The Interestings is told from multiple points of view, Belzhar hews close to its narrator, letting her tell her story in a particularly close-grained way. Jam is someone who needs to talk, who is breathless and single-minded; making her a first-person narrator struck me as the best way to convey her voice, her neediness, her absolutely certain convictions about what had happened to her.

I couldn’t help but think, when writing this novel, of the two versions of me who had read The Bell Jar. Maybe there were two versions of me who should be writing Belzhar: one who was still close to the intensity of adolescence, for whom everything felt fresh and raw. That version, which still exists inside of me, took care of the parts in which I needed to drag up feelings buried in the overstuffed dresser drawer that is adolescence: What it’s like to make first-time emotional, romantic, even sexual decisions. What it’s like to manage the overwhelming new sensations and thoughts that invade you. What it’s like to feel rejected. What it’s like to realize that everyone is essentially on their own.

But then the older version of me had to put the whole thing into context, to remember that circumstances can change if you give them enough time, even if my narrator can’t know it. I wanted the older me to be somewhere in the mix of this YA book, though not to give Jam a goody-goody artificial voice of reason. Books aren’t morality plays; they don’t all need lessons. But given that Belzhar takes place in a special class at a special boarding school, it seemed appropriate that there would indeed be some kind of essential lesson conveyed.

And that’s the point at which Mrs. Q stepped in: Jam’s elderly teacher, a woman who knows quite a bit about how things can change. Without realizing it at first, I became part Jam and part Mrs. Q, shuttling between someone who takes the short view and someone who takes the long.

At book readings, audience members often ask how writers create characters. People want to know: Have writers actually experienced what their characters experienced? And if not, where do their ideas come from? My best, though incredibly vague, answer is that ideas come about through the long, slow process of living. Even if a character’s experiences aren’t your own, you are citizens of the same world, and you’ve had your experiences and witnessed other people’s too. While all that’s been going on, empathy has quietly been forming; it’s almost a chemical process.

And if you’re a writer, you’ve also been reading. A lot. And while Belzhar isn’t a ripoff or a retelling of The Bell Jar, it reflects on Plath’s novel and owes a debt to it. It’s not that you want to imitate the book you admire; you just want to do your version of what that writer did: you want to tell the truth, fiction-style.

There are quite a few of us former teenagers—women in the middle of their lives (and some men, for sure)—who have never forgotten what it felt like to read The Bell Jar for the first time. So what are we supposed to do with all that leftover feeling?

Me, I decided to write a book.

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