Ami Rao is the author of Almost, a Fairlight Books novel publishing on 1 March 2022. Inspired by the essays of Roland Barthes, Almost is a deeply moving short novel exploring grief, one of the most complex of human emotions. Read this interview with Ami Rao to find out more.
If you could describe Almost in one word what would it be?
What inspired you to write Almost?
This quote from Susan Sontag: “The writer is the exemplary sufferer because he has found both the deepest level of suffering and also a professional means to sublimate his suffering. As a man, he suffers; as a writer, he transforms his suffering into art.”
In Almost you have experimented with your use of pronouns. What challenges did this experimentation pose to you while writing?
The challenge was less with the use of the pronoun per se and more with the thought-process that led to my ultimately using the pronoun.
When I started on this book, the most difficult idea I grappled with was this: If I am going to be writing a story about the experience of trauma, how am I going to narrate it in a way that isn’t simply lyricising it or turning the weight of that emotion into a cultural object (i.e. the book).
This is not just for the sake of the reader but because the complexity of trauma and grief and loss and the way we deal with them exist as parts of larger cultural and socio-political products and writing about them with that complexity is both an aesthetic act and also an ethical one. This aesthetic question – this necessity for very a conscious and deliberate interrogation of language and words and sentences – is where the pronoun comes in.
In the end, I really stand in awe of the pronoun, the ability of the pronoun to be at the same time, a vehicle of great intimacy and great distance. If you think about it, if there is a HE and a SHE, then logically there is a WE. And that balance I referred to earlier seemed somewhat more possible when you try and move the experience from this limited and isolated thing that happened to this person in that place and turn it into something that begins to feel like it might be attached or appended to a larger and more complicated set of experiences. So, I guess using the pronoun was an attempt to conjure a collective voice, to find a language in prose lyric that could bring to the surface the idea that even though individual experiences are unique, human suffering is universal.
Was there a particular part of the story that you found difficult to write?
Every part of everything I ever write is difficult.
You have chosen to give your earnings from Almost to mental health charity Place2Be. What inspired you to do this?
I believe there is a desperate need for increased mental health awareness. It may not be a new need, but there’s certainly a new urgency to the need. I wanted to do my bit for it in the only way I know.
You have previously published your novel David and Ameena with Fairlight Books. How did your writing experience differ between these two different books?
It didn’t. When I’m writing, I’m just writing.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned through your writing?
That it doesn’t get easier.
What do you hope people take away from reading your book?
The ability to be moved by language, to bring to the surface emotions that might have been lingering beneath the surface and allow them to boil over. To be okay with that, to give oneself permission to be okay with that.
Read more about Almost here.
You can find out more about Ami Rao here.
For more writing by Ami Rao, check out David and Ameena here.