The quiet debut of literary crime thriller Significance by Lise Sonntag belies the uniqueness and quality of this title (read my review).
I asked Lise if she’d be willing to share with us what inspired her to write this novel and a little about her writing experience.
To that end, today I have the pleasure of welcoming Lise Sonntag to Booklover Book Reviews.
Stories Within Stories
My name is Lise. I live in the city of Leipzig in Germany and Significance is my first novel.
Leipzig in winter could have been purposely designed for a detective story. It’s curious, but most people growing up in post-war Germany (on both sides of the Wall) learned to think of first foggy London and then sultry Los Angeles as the archetypal settings for hardboiled detectives and lethal femmes fatales. In recent years, however, it is snow which has become the standard backdrop for the crime story and wintry Europe its location.
Although essentially a straightforward whodunnit, from the start I wanted my tale to be multi-layered in both structure and plot. I also decided quite early on to make storytelling a theme. There are a number of stories related during the course of Significance. They act as the pieces of a jigsaw – gradually revealing a picture which has been obscured by time or by intent.
I’ve always liked the nested story as a literary device. From Scheherazade staying the executioner’s axe with her tales through to the moment when Hamlet announces that “the play’s the thing”, it is a device that can add structure and depth, and sometimes the story within a story is taken beyond its function as mere technique and elevated to something quite special.
Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities is comprised entirely of a series of beautifully poetic city descriptions related by Marco Polo to the emperor Kublai Khan. The cities themselves are fictional and are metaphors for various aspects of philosophy and human nature, revealed and commented upon during an extended conversation between the two men.
In the movie Citizen Kane, a journalist interviews a series of characters to try and uncover the story of Charles Foster Kane. In a traditional screenplay the journalist would be the main protagonist, but here Welles and Mankiewicz have reduced him to a shadow – secondary to the stories being told. This technique harks back to the very origins of modern literature and the oral traditions which informed works like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Decameron of Boccaccio.
The stories in Significance tell of the history and nature of knowledge, and about the extraordinary and courageous figures from the past who created the foundations for what we now think of as science. These stories appear at first to be unconnected and incidental, but come together to help unravel the mystery facing Baumgarten & Bach and ultimately to reveal a larger secret.As authors, we are all trying to emulate Scheherazade and continually pique the readers interest sufficiently to turn the page. I therefore hope you enjoy both my story and the stories within it.