> Genevieve Jagger on confession, weird sex, sin, vampire mythology, and secrets - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Genevieve Jagger on confession, weird sex, sin, vampire mythology, and secrets

Alistair Braidwood interviews Genevieve Jagger for SNACK

Among the most eagerly awaited debut novels of recent years, Genevieve Jagger’s Fragile Animals is living up to those expectations, already drawing critical acclaim from readers and reviewers alike. SNACK spoke to Genevieve Jagger to find out more about this extraordinary book.

How do you describe Fragile Animals to people?

If I was trying to answer this question simply I would say: Fragile Animals is about a woman in conversation with a vampire, exploring themes of queer repression, sex, and Catholicism. Most importantly the book is about confession, the releasing of sin, and secrets. Fragile Animals is a sad girl book. Sometimes Fragile Animals is funny.

I struggle to describe Fragile Animals to people, honestly! I’ve found it hard to stand by my own themes of queerness, sex, and Catholic trauma. At one point my boss at my day job asked me if Fragile Animals is very raunchy and I wasn’t sure what to say. It felt more complicated to explain that it’s about how trauma corrupts our capacities for pleasure and interrogating sex as a form of exorcism, than to just let him think I write erotica.

It’s been even more complicated to explain to my Catholic family, who are incredibly supportive and excited for me. Some want to read the book and I’ve had to outline some trigger warnings to them, i.e. ‘This book does not love God the way you do. This book is heretical. This book contains weird sex that you might not have expected to be written by your kindly niece. You’re welcome to read it, but do so at your own peril.’

“When an ex-catholic woman develops a sexual relationship with a vampire, she is forced to confront the memories that haunt her religious past.” Fragile Animals is published by 404Ink

You use Gothic themes, but in a contemporary way. Was the idea always to marry the two?

Yes and no. I didn’t set out to write something explicitly Gothic in the literary sense of the word – I’m not well read in terms of classic literature and it would be false to pretend Fragile Animals was born out of this kind of context. I think there’s a lot of posturing in the writing community, about what it means to be a worthy intellectual and the books you should have read.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve never read Dracula and I still wrote a Gothic vampire novel. Am I worthy of my own themes? I’d like to think so. The truth is that my inspirations were more trashy.

I was a teen of the Twilight generation. I grew up on paranormal romance – vampires, werewolves, angels, ghosts. The idea of exploring one’s sexuality through supernatural experience is easily understood by teenage girls of the 2010s. In many ways, I think Fragile Animals is an adult take on these same coming-of-age supernatural romances.

Vampire mythology has a power over readers which seems to endure. What about it is attractive to you?

Vampires are camp. But also – vampires are inherently subversive. They drink human blood, meaning they survive in the most abject way possible. Their very existence corrupts traditional human values. That makes a vampire a perfect vehicle to understand our morals and values.

If you are born to survive off blood, is that your fault? The vampire opens up narratives to discuss inherent sin. Maybe that’s why they’re often used to explore sexual desire. Maybe that’s why we find them sexy, because sin is kind of sexy.

The novel touches upon the move from child to adulthood. What did you want to explore about that transition?

I started writing Fragile Animals aged 21 and I think I was really stunned by the harshness of my new adulthood, going through a kind of second coming of age. I’d had a few years to experience myself as a technical adult and was dismayed to discover I was built from unhealthy coping mechanisms.

In that period of late teens to early twenties, you are coping with so much newness in terms of living independently in the world, but also you’ve just arrived at the first opportunity to reflect on the whole of your childhood, to piece things together and understand your own life from an adult perspective.

I felt thrust into a new world and at the same time suddenly aware of the failings of my last one – mind warping constantly between past, present, fearful future. I think it’s an incredibly overwhelming time of life, regardless of whether you’ve been well prepared for it.

In your first coming of age you are a teenager approaching adulthood, in your second you are coming to terms with what that adulthood really is. That it is not, and will never be, a full conclusion of your childhood. I think I had expectations that I realised would never be met and I was trying to work out what to do with them.

Photo credit: David Ronan

Alongside that, you examine guilt and forgiveness. Did writing Fragile Animals make you reflect on your own past?

Writing the novel was an act of confession: this is how the church has harmed me. I am haunted by beliefs of good and evil, worthiness and unworthiness. These thoughts have been present in me since I was six. I have grown through an environment of moral piety and existential dread. An environment that was then further confused by the choices of the adults around me.

I think there was a point in the process of writing Fragile Animals where I had to take a good hard look at Noelle and her interest in self destruction.

The setting is, mainly, the Isle of Bute, which is perhaps surprising, but it really lends an atmosphere to the novel. Why set it there?

I started writing Fragile Animals when I was visiting the Isle of Bute with my partner. My mental health was poor and we were looking to distract ourselves and thought a little Scottish island might be kind of splendid. We went in November, when there really isn’t that much to do. Instead of being distracted, I felt even further confronted by my sorry state, the thought patterns that were eroding me, how my sadness felt inside my body. We went on long and aimless walks and walked past a spooky-looking building (Ascog Hall).

After seeing that building, I started thinking about a woman meeting a vampire in a bed and breakfast. The atmosphere of Bute was my focal point from the start. I owe a lot to that weird little island.

The role of religion in some people’s upbringing is another theme. What did you want to say about that?

Christianity is an institution. More than it is a faith, an ideology, a spiritual community, it is an institution – motivated by a political agenda and the control of its people. Control is written into its very doctrine. It is hard for people to question you, if to do so is itself sinful.

You are less inclined to leave the church if you believe remaining within it makes you a ‘better’ person. This then also pushes the belief of ultimately good or bad people, with nuance crushed beneath the fist of colonialism (the church is a colonising force). I believe it is damaging to both the self and those around us to believe that some people deserve to burn in hell.

The power dynamics of the church as an institutional body then feed down into family structures, but they don’t make as much sense in the context of interpersonal relationships as they do in the context of leeching money from a population of people.

Children are left to process the contradictions and hypocrisies of Christianity on their own terms, witnessing the sins of their parents and grappling with the implied consequences (hell). This is even worse if they are born queer [and] inherently unacceptable.

Have you considered what your next novel might be about?

Gay polyamorous witches.

Fragile Animals is published by 404Ink. Buy a copy here.

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