A few months ago, I was in the mood for a novel that was set in modern Seattle. You know, I wanted “writer’s eye” view of the city so I could get a better understanding of the town’s time and place, plus maybe some poetical metaphors for “tarmac.” A friend recommended a newly released book: Always by local author Nicola Griffith. As a bonus, I discovered there was going to be a reading at the local bookstore.

I went to the reading, chatted very briefly with the Nicola Griffith, got my copy, and wound up arranging a brief interview at a pub mentioned in her book, a place in Wallingford called Murphy’s.

Before we talked, of course, I’d read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only did I like the action and the main character – a confident ex-cop named Aud – but it was exactly what I was looking for as far as a literary introduction to the city of Seattle. Aud arrives in Seattle as a stranger, and as a Norwegian. Griffith uses this combination to introduce the reader to the sights, sounds, and character of the city. It was especially fun getting a Norwegian’s view of the lingering impact of the Scandinavian fishermen.

Later, when I spoke to Griffith at Murphy’s – and it was very odd being in a place that I’d just read about in a fiction novel, let me tell you! – she said that she’s lived in Seattle since 1995, but she discovered that she can’t really write about places until she’s left it. With Seattle, that’s manifested in that she couldn’t really write about the flavor of Wallingford (which plays a strong role in Always) until she’d moved from her home in Wallingford to another neighborhood.

She pointed out, though, that Wallingford had already gone through huge changes even while she was living there. From the nineties to now, she talked about how Wallingford had grown dramatically. Griffith talked about how even the quality of the neighborhood’s awareness of itself has changed as it became less small. I liked that phrase, because that’s something Seattle has — with its neighborhood culture — more than any other city I’ve lived in: “an awareness of itself.” I think it would be interesting to watch a neighborhood become even more aware of itself.

Now that I’ve actually spent time in Seattle, I’m going to reread the book and see what all was there that I’d missed by not being familiar enough with the town my first time through!

4 Comments so far

  1. Tony B. (unregistered) on August 7th, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

    I had the same thoughts concerning Seattle being a “city of neighborhoods”. Then I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago and I think they are even more so than we are.

  2. nicola griffith (unregistered) on August 7th, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

    I think the neighbourhood thing has two main factors: the longer the city has been in place before the car came long, the more likely there is to be little villages within towns within cities. And tightly knit ethnic groups form their own little villages. So old, immigrant-rich cities like Boston, Chicago, New York have great ‘hoods. Seattle, tho’ it’s relatively new, had a huge early Norwegian and Swedish population. Cities that didn’t get a lot of immigration and/or got torn down (or burnt) e.g. Atlanta–which is constantly being torn down, at least until very recently–are less neighbourhood-focused.

  3. Mik (unregistered) on August 9th, 2007 @ 8:01 am

    Wow. Thanks for the book tip, I’ll have to pick it up today. Boston is very much a city of neighbourhoods, I loved living there. Richmond, Virignia, not so much. I’m still relatively new to the Seattle area and so far have found West Seattle to be very much like you Nicola describes above, just on a smaller scale.

  4. MMTyler (unregistered) on August 9th, 2007 @ 9:08 am

    Just so’s ya know, Always is the third Aud Torvingen book, after The Blue Place and Stay. It just happens to be the first Seattle book. I haven’t read the other two yet (I will) but I think they’re placed in Atlanta.

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