McWilliam, Candia 1955–
McWILLIAM, Candia 1955–
PERSONAL: Born July 1, 1955, in Edinburgh, Scotland; daughter of Collin Edgar (an architectural historian) and Margaret (Henderson) McWilliam; married Quentin Wallop, February 10, 1981 (divorced, 1985); married Fram Eduljee Dinshaw, September 27, 1986; children: Oliver Henry Rufus Lymington, Clementine Violet Rohais Wallop, Minocher Framroze Eduljee Dinshaw. Education: Girton College, Cambridge, B.A., (with honors), 1976. Religion: Church of England.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 598 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Writer. Affiliated with British Vogue, London, England, 1976–79, and Slade, Bluff & Bigg (advertising agency), London, 1979–81.
MEMBER: Society of Authors, Royal Society of Literature.
AWARDS, HONORS: First prize, Vogue Talent Contest, 1971; Scottish Arts Council Book Awards, 1988, for A Case of Knives and 1989, for A Little Stranger; Betty Trask Award, Society of Authors (United Kingdom), 1988, for A Case of Knives; Guardian Award for Fiction, and Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour for best foreign novel of the year, 1994, for Debatable Land.
A Case of Knives (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Soho Square II, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1989.
A Little Stranger (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.
Revenge, Virago, 1990.
Storia 4, Pandora, 1990.
A Roomful of Birds, Collins (London, England), 1991.
The Devil and Dr. Tuberose, Collins (London, England), 1992.
Femmes de Siecle, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1992.
The Pleasure of Reading, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1992.
Debatable Land, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 1994.
Looking for the Spark, Collins (London, England), 1994.
Wait Till I Tell You (short stories), Bloomsbury (London, England), 1997.
(Editor) Shorts 2: The Macallan, Scotland on Sunday Short Story Collection, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1999.
Work represented in anthologies, including Granta 43, 1993, Picador 21, 1993, Minerva New Writing 3, 1993, New Writing 4, Vintage (New York, NY), 1995, and Twenty under Thirty-five, Hodder & Stoughton. Book reviewer for various publications.
SIDELIGHTS: Candia McWilliam is among Britain's most acclaimed contemporary novelists. Her first work, A Case of Knives, is a tale of obsession and human viciousness. Much of the action is generated by Lucas Salik, a middle-aged heart surgeon who also has a place in London's homosexual demimonde. Salik has fallen in love with Hal Darbo, a young man who enjoys inflicting pain on others. Salik accepts the certainty of being hurt as an aspect of his love for Darbo. When he finds out that the younger man plans to marry for respectability, Salik, instead of trying to thwart the plan, begins actively searching for a suitable spouse for Darbo. Aided by another friend, Salik eventually locates Cora, an awkward woman who is searching for a husband to help her raise her child. Manipulations and scheming by all the principal characters result in violence.
McWilliam's A Little Stranger is the story of a rich woman, Daisy, who laments the presence of the vulgar, yet indispensable nanny she has hired to care for her four-year-old son. Daisy is given to idly reminiscing about her past as a desirable beauty, and she shows little understanding of Margaret, the diligent nanny. Daisy's husband holds Margaret in higher regard, however, and the novel culminates in a surprising revelation. A Little Stranger was favorably received by numerous reviewers, including Thomas M. Disch, who in his appraisal for the New York Times Book Review deemed the work "short but pungent" and contended that it "descended from the work of Jane Austen." London Times reviewer Elaine Feinstein also expressed her approval for the work, noting that McWilliam's writing "is spare and elegant throughout."
In McWilliam's next novel, Debatable Land, is her "most ambitious," according to a Contemporary Novelists essayist. The tale is set on a sailboat making the last leg of a journey from Tahiti to New Zealand. On board are Logan Urquhart, the powerful, moody captain; his wife Elspeth; Gabriel, an innocent English girl seeking experience; Alec, a painter who is haunted by a ruined marriage; and Sandro and Nick, the two deck hands. The sea voyage and the enclosed setting of the boat are highly metaphorical, and her story is carefully constructed. The climax comes during a great storm, and the characters are shown progressing on their interior voyages as well as the external, shared journey. According to Janet St. John in Booklist, McWilliam's prose is "highly intelligent, richly descriptive, and deeply personal." She also believed, however, that at times the narrative is "too controlled and self-conscious to ignite a passionate response." A Publishers Weekly writer also praised the author's writing as "brilliant in the extreme, full of cunning metaphors, sharp insights, gorgeous turns of phrase," yet added: "It is also a bit excessive, to the point where the reader longs for some uninflected narrative."
In addition to her novels, McWilliam has published numerous short stories in periodicals. Wait Till I Tell You, her first short story collection, contains twenty-two previously published works and two original stories. These short works "display the same eye for detail, the similarly precise, refined style, and the understated, mordant wit found in the novels," thought the Contemporary Novelists writer, "and more than make up for what they necessarily lack in development with an unnerving, even claustrophobic compression well-suited to McWilliam's thematic purpose. For these are stories of terribly, if quietly constrained lives—mainly the lonely, powerless lives of women—set in 'a country so rich in emptiness.'" McWilliam's short stories require a high degree of intelligence and engagement from the reader, according to Amanda Craig in New Statesman. "You have to read each story twice, and concentrate hard," asserted Craig, who also praised McWilliam's "metaphors and phrasing" as "still remarkable." Michele Roberts, a writer for the London Independent Sunday, mused that in these tales, "men and women get through their weird lives like the rest of us, with hope and jokes and occasional cruelty, but, thanks to their author's generous skill, become golden-tongued alchemists, giving vent to their innermost thoughts in dazzling language. Words save us, we discover, reading these wry tales."
McWilliam once told CA: "The avoidance of easy solutions and formulas is important to me. Also of importance are the vivid conveyance of physical sensation and the incidental jokes and tragedies which suddenly illuminate a seemingly random tangle of events and perceptions, the mysteriousness of people to each other, and the question of what has filled the gap left by lost faith."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Booklist, March 15, 1995, Janet St. John, review of Debatable Land, p. 1308; September 15, 1995, Whitney Scott, review of A Little Stranger (sound recording), p. 184.
Economist, April 26, 1997, review of Debatable Land, p. 83.
Independent Sunday (London, England), October 19, 1997, Michele Roberts, review of Wait Till I Tell You, p. 41.
Library Journal, July, 1989, Maurice Taylor, review of A Little Stranger, p. 109; February 15, 1995, Kimberly G. Allen, review of Debatable Land, p. 182.
New Statesman, October 17, 1997, Amanda Craig, review of Wait Till I Tell You, p. 48.
New Yorker, June 19, 1995, Susannah Clapp, review of Debatable Land, p. 94.
New York Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, Thomas M. Disch, review of A Little Stranger, p. 9; March 12, 1995, Michael Upchurch, review of Debatable Land, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Case of Knives, p. 76; May 19, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Little Stranger, p. 67; January 16, 1995, review of Debatable Land, p. 435.
Times (London, England), January 22, 1988; January 19, 1989.
Times Literary Supplement, January 22-28, 1988, p. 81; January 27, 1989, p. 89.