Ceridwen Dovey

A Novelist's Conception of Beauty

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In her filmmaking, Dovey was drawn to the beauty of farming because of the process.

Ceridwen Dovey

Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.


Dovey: I can answer that quite honestly with the farming. It’s processes. It’s . . . I think that’s why I was always attracted to farming as a film subject. I made a lot of films about farming in Vermont and all sorts of places because there was this sense of tracking a process – like a physical aesthetic process. And something incredibly satisfying about seeing that. So where there’s, you know, digging carrots out the ground and knocking them on the side of a bucket to get the ___________ you know, submerging them in water. Or you know the milking of cows. Or you know the kids on the farm used to thread wine bottle lids onto a string and then try . . . sort of tie them around ____________ and do ____________ dancing with a sort of rattle on their boots. And I was just always attracted to those sorts of images – that kind of specific minute detail of people’s ___________. But also linked to a natural process in the sense of the light, you know; of being outdoors and filming in these places where, you know, there is just this sense of being human that I think we are quite alienated from having always lived in cities. And I think I was sort of fascinated by that kind of rural sensibility. I probably have romanticized it but . . . And I suppose actually in the writing it’s a similar thing. In the book you know, a lot of the pleasure I got was describing, again, these sort of minute processes; and these three men who have these very hands on relationships with the president. And so the kind of processes of clipping his hair and, you know, spraying it first, and putting the towel around the neck; or the intricate details of, you know, making his meals. And so I suppose it’s a kind of interest in that. I do think it’s a quite ___________ book. And I really admire writers who can kind of face beauty head on. Because I think it’s much, much harder to write beauty well than it is to write, you know, kind of depressing ugliness well. And so I do hope it’s something I can learn to do without ever, you know, falling into the trap of being sentimental. I suppose that’s always the problem with any . . . approaching beauty. Recorded on: 12/6/07