“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
According to Vanity Fair, where this questionnaire appears at the back of every issue, “The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.”
When I’m trying to get to know my characters, I often use this questionnaire – and am now offering it here for book clubs to use if they’d like to learn more about me. Please send an email (link to email@example.com) if you have specific questions about what you just read. And, thank you for reading, sharing, and discussing my books!
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?A warm, sunny day at the end of a dock, an Ontario lake beneath me, my family close by but not in need of anything, and an excellent book in my hands.
2. What is your greatest fear?Losing someone I love.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?Impatience.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?Negativity.
5. Which living person do you most admire?My children, and Angela Merkel.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?Diptyque candles. A friend recently said they smell like burning money. This is quite literally true.
7. What is your current state of mind?Cautiously optimistic, slightly heartbroken.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?Honesty.
9. On what occasion do you lie?If I’m keeping a secret for someone who has trusted me to do so, if I’m protecting feelings, if the person asking is on a need to know basis. (Also, polite social dishonesty is NOT a bad thing. I would like to be told I look 25 until I’m 101.)
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?My daughter saw a photo of me at 25 the other day and told me I’d “grown into” my face. I take that as a compliment. I have resolved not to dislike anything about my appearance. I’m just happy to be here.
11. Which living person do you most despise?I don’t want to say his name anymore but … you know who.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?Broad shoulders. Oh, are we not talking physical qualities? ☺ Intelligence.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?Intelligence.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?Did you wash your hands?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?My children, my husband, my funny little cat.
16. When and where were you happiest?I remember a summer afternoon a few years ago, when nothing much was happening. We were all in the yard and everyone was happy, and someone laughed, and these words popped into my head: you will never be happier than you are right now. I’m a writer and therefore prone to drama, but still. It was later that year that my mom got sick and I actually think I have never been happier than I was that moment, because now my greatest fear – losing someone I love – has been realized. I’ve learned you’ll survive it but also that it changes things. That that innocent moment in the yard will never be repeated in quite the same way. The veil has been lifted. We will all lose something eventually.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?A shockingly beautiful singing voice, to be trotted out randomly with friends at a karaoke party.
18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?I’d like to be a few inches taller. I’d also like to be less prone to what my therapist once called “catastrophizing” –which, by the way, is a fabulous word.
19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?Raising two people I genuinely enjoy being around. And every single book I publish is a great achievement.
20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?I sometimes think I’d like to come back as a hawk or eagle. I would love to be able to fly over treetops. But if I had a choice I would want to be a person and specifically someone who could still be around the people I love.
21.Where would you most like to live?I really like living in Toronto.
22.What is your most treasured possession?I don’t think I have one.
23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?This past year hasn’t been great.
24.What is your favorite occupation?Writing.
25.What is your most marked characteristic?I’m sure most people would describe me as talkative.
26.What do you most value in your friends?Kindness.
27.Who are your favorite writers?Britt Bennett, Alice Munroe, Sue Miller, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Victor Hugo, Lauren Groff, and all the members of my ‘writing coven’: Karma Brown, Kerry Clare, Chantel Guertin, Kate Hilton, Elizabeth Renzetti and Jennifer Robson, without whom I would be lost.
28.Who is your hero of fiction?Circe as written by Madeline Miller.
29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?Jane Austen.
30.Who are your heroes in real life?My late mother will always be my hero. I’m also a big fan of my agents, for literature and film, because they’re extremely badass and I’m not.
31.What are your favorite names?I like my name. My mom told me she named me after the actress Marisa Berenson but added an extra ‘s’ so people wouldn’t mispronounce it. I think that’s cool.
32.What is it that you most dislike?I’m not always great at this, but I think it’s important to appreciate the things we do have rather than wailing about the things we don’t.
33.What is your greatest regret?I made a few decisions early in my publishing career I probably would have made differently if I had had author friends to bounce things off of. But I don’t have any major regrets and intend to keep it that way.
34.How would you like to die?In my sleep, just before I’m about to lose my faculties.
35.What is your motto?Build yourself a bridge and get over it.