Accomplished novelist and history nerd Michelle Butler Hallett is back in The Newfoundland Herald’s spotlight with her latest historical thriller published by Goose Lane Editions, Constant Nobody
In 2016, Butler released This Marlowe. The gripping account of English playwright Christopher Marlowe’s last months of life before being brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances was listed for the ReLit Award and the Dublin International Literary Award. Now, five years later, she takes us on a riveting journey of love and tyranny set in 1937, during Stalin’s Great Purge and the Spanish Civil War.
Butler Hallett, described by novelist Christy-Ann Conlin as an “elemental” writer, was immersed in reading, writing, and all forms of art at an incredibly young age. Alongside an enormous collection of storybooks and records, she found herself diving head first into non-fiction book subscriptions pertaining to biography, science, and history.
“I had a privileged childhood. My parents sacrificed a lot for all the read-along storybooks and records,” she shared in a one-on-one interview.
“I read about a very wide variety of topics, people, and places. I still do, and this helps me develop empathy for other people. I am parched with curiosity, so thirsty to learn — though of course the more I learn, the less I know.”
A totally absorbing storyline accompanied by humorous dialogue, Constant Nobody brings together two flawed characters within a time of violence and immense suffering. A young British agent operating undercover as a nurse meets a NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) agent under unfortunate circumstances. Add in the tricky language of love and you have what the Barenaked Ladies would refer to as — Lovers in a Dangerous Time.
“Violence, evil, love, and grace seem to be constants of the human condition: how we live, and how we’re shaped. I am fascinated by both the depths and heights of humanity and the tensions between them,” she explained.
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On the outside, it seems a story of violence and repression. However, between the layers of psychological suspense, you find a powerful tale articulating the dynamics and depth that come with human nature.
“One theme of this novel is duty and how it’s perceived. I wanted to show how and why someone might do what Kotsya and Temerity do. If a reader takes something away from Constant Nobody, I hope it’s a sense of the complexities of empathy and responsibility.”
Founded in 2013, Ochre Fest is an annual celebration of Newfoundland and Labrador books, music, art, food and culture. While the festival usually takes place in beautiful Ochre Pit Cove, Conception Bay, this year required a COVID-19 adjustment. Author readings, along with all other components including musical performances, were recorded in advance and premiered via Facebook and their website.
“I love reading to an audience, whether it’s in person or online. I also have some readings posted on my YouTube channel. I feel very strongly about being prepared for a reading. If someone’s bothered to come to a venue or check out a stream, then I had jolly well be ready to give it my best. It’s about respect for one’s audience,” Butler Hallett shared.
“I’ve given many readings on the mainland, and a few here since I first published in 2006. This year’s Ochre Fest is my third time being invited to a festival here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Although I’m quite certain this won’t be the last incredible piece we see from Michelle Butler Hallett, this is the one you should run to purchase if you want to experience the addictive roller coaster of violence, evil, love, and grace.
You can grab your hard copy or eBook at www.gooselane.com. Hard copies are also available at Chapters and Coles, as well as The Bee’s Knees, one of Ochre Fest’s sponsors. To check out Ochre Fest updates visit www.ochrefest.ca