UWA alumnus Marija Pericic has found her identity as a writer in lauded debut The Lost Pages, she tells Elaine Fry
Australian author Marija Pericic’s prodigious talent was recognised when she won the Vogel Literary Award with her unpublished manuscript, unanimously chosen by the judges as “clearly the best written and most literate book” and a “very cleverly structured and an intriguing concept”.
Now published as her debut novel, The Lost Pages is set in 1908 Prague, where Pericic explores an alternative reality conceived around Franz Kafka’s less famous friend and mentor, Max Brod, whose fictionalised memoirs relate the disastrous effect Kafka had on Brod’s life and career as a writer.
Pericic was intrigued by the effect of the jealousy and threat she imagines Brod must have felt on recognising Kafka’s superior talent. Her novel powerfully potrays Brod’s pathological self-inflicted torture and disintegration of his fragile mental state.
“When I started writing this novel, I didn’t really know that much about Kafka and Max Brod,” she admits.
“But when I started reading about Kafka the man, he actually turned out to be so different to what I thought.”
She assumed Kafka would be “like one of the characters in his stories”, depressive and neurotic. “I found out he was very charming and popular. Everybody thought he had this great sense of humour. He was quite a ladies’ man.” The same thing happened when Pericic started researching Max Brod. “I found he had this crippling spinal deformity and I imagined he must have had to struggle with that all his life. There was this reversal between the two men from what I thought the general image of them was like.”
Pericic attributes her gift for storytelling to her love for books. “I have always been a reader,” she says. “I read voraciously. I never studied writing formally but just always loved reading so much. I feel that if I could not read, my life would be over. Reading is such a pleasure to me. Just experiencing all those different worlds, all those different lives, enriches one’s life so much.”
When it came to writing her own book, she says she at first was scared. But her fears were quickly allayed. “No one had told me it was so much fun to write a novel,” she says. “It is like reading but more intense and much more enjoyable. I am so excited to be starting on another novel now.”
Living and working in Melbourne but having grown up in Quinns Rocks and graduating from the University of WA, Pericic loves Perth and returns here every Christmas.
‘I now feel like I have permission to think of myself as a writer.’
The Lost Pages is published by Allen & Unwin ($30).
Marija Pericic’s novel won the Vogel Literary Award.