An Interview With Alma Katsu and My Review of The Taker
The Taker by Alma Katsu
ARC Review Copy Provided by: Gallery Books a division of Simon & Schuster.
Many Thanks to Alma Katsu for taking the time to answer a few questions about her life and the novel.
- Pub. Date: September 2011
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
- Format: Hardcover , 448pp
- Sales Rank: 604,091
- ISBN-13: 9781439197059
- ISBN: 1439197059
True love can last an eternity . . . but immortality comes at a price. . . .
On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.
Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the nineteenth century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, Lanny will do anything to be with him forever. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.
Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is an unforgettable tale about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy, and how each of us is responsible for finding our own path to redemption.
My Take on The Taker:
Grab a seat, throw you apprehension at the door, and get ready for one of the best pieces of literature you will read this year. Instantly addicting and magically surprising, The Taker is a passionate journey that everyone should experience. It is an unconventional bittersweet take on what love can truly do to your soul.
Every day after I completed a section of the book and put it down for the evening, I was always searching for a word to describe what I just read. When friends stared at the cover and quietly asked what the novel was about, I wanted to desperately sum it up with as much accuracy as possible. But unfortunately the words never came and I was often left with a puzzled expression on my face. However, as I read the last page and closed the book with a heavy sigh, I finally had an epiphany.
There is NOT one perfect word to describe this novel. Matter-of-fact, there is not one perfect sentence to describe this novel. To express what The Taker is you must live the experience, every word, every laugh, and every despicable act that transpired. When I thought I had the heart of the story figured out, Katsu changed it up and made it into something else entirely. It was an intensely dark tale of unrelenting love and the struggle one woman went through to keep it in her possession.
To be honest the only reason I wanted to review this book was because of the cover. Normally I don’t read books that are considered “historical”. Not to say that those books aren’t well written, I just typically like my books to be set in the present or future (blame that on my addiction to technology). But when I saw the cover of The Taker, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to know more. Yes I know, never judge a book by the cover, but once you see it for yourself you will understand my instant attraction.
Now on to the meat of the story!
The story is woven though centuries, with the bulk of the action taking place in the 1800’s in a small Puritan town called St. Andrew and the bustling city of Boston. St. Andrew, a small Puritan town in Maine, was comprised of all the attributes of my own small hometown. Secluded, filled with religion and gossip, the town itself was its own living and breathing entity. Katsu’s vivid imagery propels the reader into a love story without warning or an apology. At first I was surprised by the switch between first and third person. I have seen it attempted by other romance novelist, but only a certain few can pull it off successfully without jarring the reader. Looking back, I actually think switching perspectives and point of view’s was the best way to convey this star-crossed love affair.
The book is comprised of four parts, with each adding more depth and personality than the previous one. The torment constantly afflicted on the main character Lanore McIlvrae will drive you mad to the point of obsession. Her painful struggle of self discovery brought tears to my eyes on many occasions because I wanted, more than anything, for her suffering to end. Lanore, nicknamed Lanny, wanted only one thing: to be loved by her childhood friend Jonathan St. Andrew. Jonathan, an imperfect god of sorts, stole Lanny’s heart when he was only twelve years old. From the presumptuous moment she stole a kiss in the cloakroom of the church, Lanny knew without a doubt that he was the love of her life. And from that moment on with her unique voice, Katsu spins a tale of monumental proportions as she thrusts Lanny into a world of seduction, violence, disappointment, and heartbreak.
I do not want to go into too much detail about this book. As I previously stated you must live the experience to appreciate a story of this caliber. I implore you all to not judge this book based on what you think it might be. Because as you will soon find out, this journey will unexpectedly change your perspective by tugging on one thing that so many authors fail to capture – your heart.
- 1.For those readers who don’t know who you are, please tell us a little about yourself (where you are from, how long you’ve been writing, etc.)?
Hi, I’m Alma Katsu and I live in the Washington DC area, though I grew up in Massachusetts in an area that figured prominently in the American Revolution, which is where the historical influence comes from. I’ve written on and off since I was young, but about 11 years ago really hunkered down: got a Master’s degree in writing, wrote every day, went to conferences, met other writers, all that good stuff. Until recently my day job was as an intelligence analyst for the federal government, but after 30 years I was ready to take the skills and work habits I’d developed and start a new career.
- 2. What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
The TAKER is my debut novel and one thing I’ve found is that it’s almost impossible to summarize because it doesn’t really fit into any category. For instance, I could say it’s a story about a young woman who falls in love with a man she can’t have, and so she makes a deal with a mysterious man to bind him to her forever. (That’s how I usually describe the book, by the way.) So it sounds like a love story, but then you miss the historical aspect of it. And the supernatural aspect. It’s very hard to impart, quickly, the book’s true nature.
- 3. The Taker is described as a gothic historical. Do you feel that is an accurate description?
As mentioned above, it’s hard to categorize the novel. It certainly is gothic in feel, and it’s historical, set in two time periods—the early 1800s and also in 1350—with a present day thread running through it. It’s got an epic, sweeping feel to it, which is why it’s been compared so much with Interview with the Vampire and The Historian—but it doesn’t have any vampires, and those comparisons have ended up being misleading, I think.
- 4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
It’s a cautionary tale about love. I have nothing against love, or being in a committed relationship; I’ve been married for over 20 years myself. But it seems that girls are constantly told that they must be in a relationship in order to be—well, fill in the blank: a real woman, a success as a woman. The pressure is such that many of us don’t take the time to understand ourselves, and get involved with men who are wrong for us.
However, the message isn’t to stay locked away in a cupboard and to play it safe, either. Lanny, the protagonist, has a cloistered life growing up and longs to experience the world and to have adult experiences, and she gets her wish once she leaves the town of St. Andrew, but her wish is fulfilled in a way she couldn’t imagine.
- 5. A few of the unfavorable reviews I came across seem to focus solely on the sexual acts in the book and not on the book as a whole. To me it seems that sex was used as a means of power over other people, specifically the relationship between Lanore and Adair. Maybe you can tell us (without spoilers) a little bit more about their true relationship.
Sex has an important role in the book. It tends to have an important role in our lives, too, and is such a volatile topic because it touches us more personally than just about any thing else. I think that’s what makes it an interesting element to have in a book, but it’s also uncontrollable: some readers can’t be objective on this topic, and then the part that deals with sex overshadows the rest of the book.
Lanore is eager to become an adult, and sex is part of the adult world. But in her world—1816, in a land that was founded by Puritans—sex is a mystery for women, kept that way until her wedding night. Adair is Lanny’s guide to the adult world. He’s the first person to treat her as an adult, and that includes introducing her to sex for the pleasure and not merely to please (or ensnare) someone else.
Sex is also about power: on one hand, Lanny is empowered by taking control of her sex life. But sex is also a means within a relationship for one person to exert power over his or her partner. And in the case of Adair, he uses sex as a way to punish others; it’s the most devastating and personal way to hurt another person, and to control them. This is the area that some readers might find shocking. Overall, however, I didn’t think readers would find this theme of sex in a woman’s journey of self-discovery too objectionable, as it has many antecedents in literature: Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders are two well known works, and more recently Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue.
- 6.Did you weave any of your own life experiences or even friends in the plot?
Hmm, that last question makes this one seem quite provocative!
From my experience writing fiction, the issues that you struggle with in life end up being the issues you write about, but it all comes from your subconscious so it’s not taken verbatim, if you see what I mean. I think it’s not until after you’ve written a piece that you see the parallels to your own life. In my case, I was precocious and definitely in a rush to grow up and, like Lanny, raised in an overly protective household. Unfortunately, there was no Jonathan in my hometown to take my mind off the tedium.
Also, for a while my job involved analyzing mass atrocities. You learn a lot about your fellow man’s capacity for evil in a job like that, his ability to manipulate others and to lie to himself.
- 7.Is there anything in The Taker you would change (add or take out) now if you could and what would it be?
Hmm, I haven’t thought about that. I’d probably tighten it up some, but otherwise, no.
- 8.I am dying to know what happens to Luke and Lanore, can you tell us if there will be a sequel?
The Taker was written as a stand-alone but I missed the characters so much that I proposed a trilogy to the publisher. Over the course of all three books, you get Lanny’s complete arc. She’s not left as a tragic figure. She figures out who she is and makes herself worthy of love, and in return she gets what she wants most in the world: someone who loves her deeply and truly.
- 9.For all of us out there who are trying to write their first masterpiece, do you have any advice that you could share?
Nothing terribly original but I’ve found such advice to be true: Write every day. It all comes down to the writing. If you’ve written something that people want to read, something compelling and true, the rest (more or less) falls into place. Don’t hold back, don’t save something for the next story or book; put everything you have on the page (heard that from Janet Evanovich). People want to have an extraordinary experience when they immerse themselves in a story.
- 10. Lastly, where can readers follow you?Blog details? www.almakatsu.blogspot.com
Your web site ? www.almakatsu.com
FaceBook page? Alma Katsu, author
Goodreads author page? www.goodreads.com/author/show/3387293.Alma_Katsu
Twitter details? @almakatsu
Thank you so much for the interview, The Taker was a book that I was unsure about, but it surprised and enchanted me beyond words!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. A fair amount of fiction these days feels formulaic, so you hear about another “supernatural love story” and you think it fits a certain mold. A lot of readers have had the same reaction as you—it was nothing like what they expected and they couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s the kind of book that depends on word of mouth, and I hope readers will take a chance on the book and then tell their friends, and help The Taker find it’s audience.
Thank you very much!
4.5 out of 5 Controllers
(and that’s only because the beginning is a little slower than I would have liked)