How do you explain this book without spoilers? It’s one where you both want to – and don’t want to – tell the premise…
BP: Good question! I do think it’s one of those books which is best approached knowing as little as possible, but what I tend to say is that it’s the story of a young man who walks into the woods on one of the worst mornings of his life, finds a giant egg, and decides to take it home.
Beyond that, it’s a story about grief, about loneliness, about masculinity and the inability to open up even when times are hard. But it’s also a story about hope, about the power of humour, and about two extremely dysfunctional friends who come together at exactly the right time.
Can you tell us where you got the idea for the story?
BP: I very clearly remember one winter afternoon a few years ago. My fiancée had just had a minor operation and was asleep upstairs, so I was passing the time watching TV. It was during the height of the Baby Yoda craze, and I was watching Baby Yoda on screen and thinking… what if you took the most serious, most heartfelt human story, and added a character like that right into the middle of it?
I’m hugely influenced by writers like Max Porter and Patrick Ness, both of whom have written books which cast grief as a central character. I wanted to do the same thing, but I didn’t want the grief in my book to be something dark or sinister – I wanted it to be something chaotic, something confusing, something hilarious in a surreal, light-headed sort of way. So, the egg was born. Or perhaps I should say hatched.
Isaac and the Egg is both unreal, and very real. Was it difficult to strike that balance?
BP: It was, but it was also a great challenge for a writer. Because the entire book is built on that central contradiction between heartbreak and humour, I knew it would be a challenge to balance the “Isaac” side of things and the “egg” side of things.
The key for me was that I didn’t want to shy away from Isaac’s emotional state, no matter how raw or uncomfortable that might be, because I wanted you to feel deeply with and for him. If you really believed in Isaac and what he was going through, believing in the egg and all of the strangeness that comes with it wouldn’t be too much of a leap of faith.
As a premise it is deliciously quirky – do you have uncommon types of stories that you yourself are drawn to?
BP: The stuff I read tends to fall on two sides of a spectrum, one which probably sums up that strange friction you’ll find in Isaac and the Egg. On the one side, I love small-scale, introspective human stories like Sarah Winman’s Tin Man and Andrew Sean Greer’s Less. Then yes, on the other side, the weirder the better. A recent book I loved for its unapologetic oddness is Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings, and I’m a huge fan of George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo.
I’m also really inspired by children’s books, and the way that they use otherworldly elements to distill difficult human themes. I approached Isaac and the Egg wanting to tell a very real, very grown-up story with the magical sensibility of children’s literature, and you’ll see a lot of those influences stitched into the story – not least because Isaac is a children’s illustrator, and his late wife, Mary, writes children’s books.
The novel has a very visual and cinematic feel – was that intentional?
BP: Totally. In fact, the story itself constantly references the pop cultural framework in which Isaac understands the world, his situation being something of a mashup between E.T. and It’s a Wonderful Life. Because the egg is such a bizarre character, I wanted you to imagine it almost as a 1980s Jim Henson-esque puppet, something which doesn’t seem real but you suspend all disbelief for.
I’m a very visual writer and I saw the whole thing in “scenes”, meaning you’re essentially watching a one-man show of Isaac grappling with his feelings, spurred on by the presence of the egg. It’s an intimate story, and it plays out on the small and claustrophobic stage of the house in which Isaac is basically holding himself prisoner. I think that’s why people feel so close to Isaac, and why they’re prepared to go on this odd, illuminating journey with him.
Isaac and the Egg is available online and at your local Dymocks store.