It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock. What a kitchen that was, with birds in every state of undress… It was my first commission. I started as a neck-wringer..
This is the story of Henri, a young Frenchman sent to fight in the Napoleonic wars. It is the story of Villanelle, a cross-dressing Venetian woman, born with webbed feet. There are four sections: The Emperor. The Queen of Spades. The Zero Winter. The Rock. Told in the first-person, The Emperor is Henri’s narrative, while The Queen of Spades belongs to Villanelle. The pair meet in Russia in The Zero Winter. From then the narratives switch and intertwine.
The Passion isn’t an historical novel. It uses history as invented space. The Passion is set in a world where the miraculous and the everyday collide. Villanelle can walk on water. The woman she loves steals her heart and hides it in a jar. This is the city of mazes. You may meet an old woman in a doorway. She will tell your fortune depending on your face. The Passion is about war, and the private acts that stand against war. It’s about survival and broken-heartedness, and cruelty and madness.
What you risk reveals what you value.
Meet Patrick, the drunken Irish look-out whose left eye can see for 20 miles. Ride out with Domino, Napoleon’s midget groom. Travel to Venice and be seduced by a mysterious and beautiful woman. Find your own disguise and wear it.
Is it true that The Passion is being made into a movie?
Yes. Miramax have bought the rights. Gwyneth Paltrow and Juliet Binoche are signed. I’ll put more details in the film and TV section when I have them.
Why did you set the book in the Napoleonic Wars?
All of my work, including Oranges, manipulates history. The past is not sacred. The past is not static. There are a few facts we can rely on – dates, places, people, but the rest is interpretation and imagination. I like that freedom. I liked the idea of setting an intensely personal story against a brutal impersonal background. Anyway, Napoleon has always fascinated me, probably because he was short. The real answer to why is not a fact it’s a fiction. It wasn’t an objective choice, it was a hunch. I hadn’t been to Venice when I wrote about it – which is perfect because Venice doesn’t really exist.
Some people think this is your best book – what do you think?
I think read them all…
I’m telling you stories. Trust me.