The winter of her discontent: in “Tout va bien”, Mona Awad creates a Shakespearean tragicomedy

“There is something about the San Diego sunshine that always brings out the darkness in me too.”

To hear Mona Awad say it, a stint in San Diego is exactly what she needed to complete her third novel, “All is well” (Simon & Schuster). A dark, comedic tale of an aspiring actor-turned-college theater director struggling with chronic pain, the book is mostly set in an unnamed town somewhere on the New England coast.

And while Awad admits that it seems “odd” that the book was mostly written on one rib, but takes place on another, she says the majority of the tone of the book is all in San Diego.

“The sunshine, the movement towards the sun, the sea and the unsettling ecstasy, that’s all San Diego,” says Awad, who rented a beachfront Airbnb in La Jolla after taking a semester off from his teaching work at Syracuse University.

“It was truly the most amazing creative experience I have ever had,” she continues. “The book kind of unfolded when I got there. I wrote everything there in the space of a month. The natural beauty of the place definitely helped shape the book. It reminds me of the book not only as a book, but also as a place, because it was such a magical experience.

This magic extends to the story that takes place in “All is well”. The book’s protagonist, Miranda Fitch, is physically and mentally choked after a series of unfortunate events. Her acting career is shattered, her divorce has been unpleasant and, most urgently, there is the accident on stage and the botched surgery that left her with chronic back pain and dependent on painkillers. Then, when it looks like she has given up completely and is on the verge of losing her teaching job, she receives a visit from three mysterious benefactors and suddenly things take a fantastic turn and fantastic for the best.

“The first third of the book is filled with that New England, wintry desperation,” says Awad, who often walked alone along the La Jolla coast several times a day, listening to productions of “Macbeth,” for himself. inspire it. “The book begins in the winter during the school theater season. So it starts in the winter in New England and Miranda is in terrible pain on the ground and then things start to change because it’s a comedy after all. Thus, the trajectory moves upwards towards the spring, towards the sun, and his experience changes with it.

There are Shakespearean dualities throughout “All’s Well”. Of course, there’s the title of the book, a cheeky reference to both the play Miranda is attempting to stage (“All is well that ends well”) and the state of her physical health. However, there is also the fact that it has long been debated whether the titular Shakespeare play was a comedy or a tragedy. And just like with Shakespeare’s character of Helen, Miranda is a comedic and tragic character who can’t seem to get a break.

“The stage production in the book is obviously ‘All’s well that ends well’ because it’s the play, the life and the story that Miranda wants for herself,” says Awad, who has incorporated some of her character’s own life experiences with chronic pain. by Miranda. “But then there’s the room she’s forced to live in, the one she doesn’t want, which is ‘Macbeth’.”

Along with Miranda’s rebellious students, there’s also her unrequited fixation on Hugo, a set designer who has parallels with Count Bertram in Shakespeare’s “All Is Well”.

“Part of the reason I think ‘All’s well that ends well’ is so disturbing, weird and fascinating is because Helen, the main character, is so interesting,” Awad says. “She’s so witchy, smart and enterprising, and yet she’s obsessed with this guy who doesn’t like her.” She moves heaven and earth, she turns the world of the play upside down, just to get this man. There is just something about this improbable, irrational attraction that won me over so much.

For Awad, this attraction to the improbable and the irrational seems to have always been there. She grew up in Montreal and Mississauga, Canada (the latter which Awad jokingly calls “the saga of misery” in her first novel, “13 Ways to Look at a Fat Girl”) and says writing magical stories was his way of escaping. .

“I was always a shy kid and didn’t always feel comfortable talking, but I had a lot of feelings about the things I saw,” Awad recalls. “I was imaginative, but I was afraid of a lot of things, so my head was always spinning these crazy stories. So writing became a place of freedom and agency, of power.”

While her mother loved a good thriller, Awad says she has always been much more drawn to stories that incorporated magical realism into the plot. She published an essay in Vogue this year, where she shared how films such as “The Wizard of Oz” helped her cope with a largely absent father.

“I’ve always felt this concrete reality, if I had to tell this story, I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth as I lived it,” says Awad, whose two previous novels also incorporated fantastic elements. “This is why I love” The Wizard of Oz “, because it is an exploration of the truth of someone’s heart as opposed to correct the truth. To tell that kind of truth, I wish the magic, the possibility and the wonder were there.

This specific mark of truth is evident throughout “All is well.” Awad is a sufficiently talented writer that she was simply able to create a simple and relatable tale about a suffering and unlucky woman. Instead, she wrote something far more exciting: a mystical journey with spectral benefactors, mysterious curses, and limitless magic. Something the bard would have been proud of.

“There is something to play with what is possible,” Awad says. “There is something about the introduction of magic and the supernatural that for me when telling a story makes it more psychologically and emotionally true.”

“All is well” by Mona Awad (Simon & Schuster, 2021; 368 pages)

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Combs is a freelance writer.

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