A Q&A with Elizabeth McKenzie

December 18, 2015

author photoElizabeth McKenzie’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. She lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her new novel, The Portable Veblen, is a riotously funny and deeply insightful adventure through capitalism, the medical industry, family, love, war and wedding-planning – from an electrically entertaining new voice.

What I’m reading:

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban

What I’m listening to:

The Dead Sailor Girls, Neil Finn

What I’m watching:

The Americans

Favourite word(s):

homunculus + pseudo

Favourite song:

And Your Bird Can Sing

Your hero – literary or otherwise:

Roger Federer

The book you wish you’d written/The book that everyone should read:

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Writing ritual:

lots of coffee, straight backed wooden chair, back to the window, children at school

Best advice ever received:

Look for what’s already here.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Fewer heartless jerks.

Think of something beautiful – could we ask you to describe what you see?

Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing festivals in Japan.

What’s the most memorable sentence you’ve ever read?

One is from the Steegmuller translation of Madame Bovary: “Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing?

There have been serious secret yearnings for careers in private investigation, airline pilotry, and donkey ranching.

Who would play your main character in a film adaptation of your book:

Honeysuckle Weeks? Ellen Page?

Where best do you write? Your study, your kitchen counter, Starbucks?

A small cluttered room at the top of the stairs.


Meet Veblen: a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an experienced cheerer-upper (mainly of her narcissistic, hypochondriac, controlling mother), an amateur translator of Norwegian, and a firm believer in the distinct possibility that the plucky grey squirrel following her around can understand more than it lets on.

Meet her fiancé, Paul: the son of good hippies who were bad parents, a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. His recent work on a device to minimize battlefield trauma has led him dangerously close to the seductive Cloris Hutmacher, heiress to a pharmaceuticals empire, who is promising him fame and fortune through a shady-sounding deal with the Department of Defence.

What could possibly go wrong?

109122-FCXThe Portable Veblen

Elizabeth McKenzie

Published 19th November 2015

Harper Fiction



RRP £12.99

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