Drawing on facts but not constrained by them, The Interview imagines the meeting one Parisian afternoon in 1972 of the famed and aged Irish designer, Eileen Gray, and the rising young star of Fleet Street, Bruce Chatwin. A published interview with Gray, suddenly fashionable again, would have been a big scoop for the journalist. But after two hours spent together, nothing was ever published. What could have happened that afternoon? Patricia O’Reilly builds an impressive edifice around that question.
O’Reilly’s second novel with Gray as a protagonist (after Time & Destiny) appears as there is renewed interest in the designer, and the writer’s fascination with both the creative and emotional lives of Gray is clear from the beginning. Gray is very much the star of this fictive documentary, the use of an omniscient narrator creating an almost docudrama feel. However, it is Gray’s fictional and beguiling voice that dominates the novel. As interviewer, Chatwin’s function is to encourage gentle revelations as her reserve gradually crumbles. While there are consistent glimpses of his past, they serve mostly to accentuate her memories.
This is obviously a very well researched book, but that research is put firmly at the use of the narrative as the reader moves back and forth in time. The flashbacks to Gray’s childhood in Ireland, the construction of her iconic villa E1027 and particularly Gray’s encounter with the famed architect Le Corbusier are all beautifully imagined. Her romantic relationships with both men and women are also portrayed sensitively, showing the acute loneliness demanded by genius.
In The Interview Patricia O’Reilly has written a fictional but convincing account that stays with the reader long after this slim volume is finished.