Zoë Heller

Zoë Heller lives in New York and is at work on her fourth novel, Mother Country.

The reputation of parenthood has not fared well in the modern era. Social science has concluded that parents are either no happier than people without children, or decidedly unhappier. Parents themselves have grown competitively garrulous on the subject of their dissatisfactions. Confessions of child-rearing misery are by now so unremarkable that the parent who doesn’t merrily cop to the odd infanticidal urge is considered a rather suspect figure. And yet, the American journalist Jennifer Senior argues, it would be wrong to conclude that children only spoil their parents’ fun.

J.D. Salinger, who is now in his early eighties, has spent the greater part of his life hiding out from the world on a hilltop in New Hampshire. Over the last half century, he has continued to write steadily, it seems, but to protect his reclusion he has refused to publish any of his work since 1968. Then – at the last minute, as it were – a former girlfriend, Joyce Maynard, a...

Kerfuffle: Ronald Reagan

Zoë Heller, 2 March 2000

Fourteen years ago, Edmund Morris won the job of writing the official Reagan biography. With the job came all kinds of unprecedented access. Morris was allowed to attend senior staff meetings at the White House and to travel as part of the Presidential entourage on foreign trips. He had permission to examine the President’s conscientiously kept handwritten diary and, most promisingly, he was granted a monthly private interview with his subject.

Mother Punk: Vivienne Westwood

Zoë Heller, 10 December 1998

In 1972, Vivienne Westwood, a 31-year-old mother of two, sat down at the kitchen table of her council flat in Clapham and began decorating white T-shirts to sell at Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, the shop at 430 King’s Road owned and run by her boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren. Westwood’s previous T-shirts, which bore screenprint images of rock’n’roll idols and slogans like ‘Vive la Rock’, had not sold well. The last lot had ended up being converted into knickers. Her new ones were intended to make a stronger statement. Some were decorated with marabou feathers and little plastic windows on the breasts into which pictures of pin-up girls were inserted. Others sported two zippers allowing exposure of the nipples. The most memorable proved to be the bone T-shirts:‘

Feathered Wombs: Toni Morrison

Zoë Heller, 7 May 1998

Something amazing has happened to Toni Morrison’s reputation in the United States. Over the last ten years, since the publication of Beloved, her fifth novel, she has been catapulted from the teeming ranks of well-known, well-respected fiction writers, to the thin-aired plane reserved for America’s deities and seers. Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 had something to do with this of course, but Morrison’s status in American culture goes beyond, and is certainly not reducible to, the approbation of the Swedes. She appears on the cover of the New York Review of Books and Time magazine. She is required reading in American schools and colleges, and very probably the subject of more doctoral dissertations than any other contemporary American writer. She is Oprah Winfrey’s Favourite Author. (In gratitude for which honour, she has, by the way, made several Papal appearances on Oprah’s Book Club, delivering gnomic verities about Literature and Life to a slightly confounded, but droolingly reverent studio audience.) In the great halls of the New York Public Library, an extract from her Nobel Prize acceptance speech has been graven on the stone wall.

Harridan: Zoë Heller

Rachel Cohen, 6 November 2008

The question of which characters in a novel get most space is generally decided early on, often for reasons that are at first unclear. In Zoë Heller’s new novel, The Believers, a large...

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Bodily Speaking: Zoë Heller

Sarah Rigby, 29 July 1999

Willy Muller, the 50-year-old narrator of Everything You Know, confides at the beginning of the novel that he doesn’t understand his girlfriend’s attachment to him. He treats her...

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