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In 'Meredith, Alone', the protagonist hasn't left her house in 1,214 days


Meredith is not alone although she is the character at the center of Claire Alexander's novel, "Meredith, Alone." She's got a job writing website copy remotely. She has a cat named Fred. Sadie, her friend, visits with her children. She has an online friend named Celeste and in-person visits from Tom, who's with a group in Glasgow called Holding Hands. But let's ask Claire Alexander to read the entire Page 3 of her novel.

CLAIRE ALEXANDER: (Reading) Wednesday, Nov. 14th, 2018. My name is Meredith Maggs, and I haven't left my home for 1,214 days.

SIMON: Claire Alexander joins us now from Scotland. Thank you so much for being with us.

ALEXANDER: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: I gather this premise was on your mind long before the pandemic made us all feel a little bit like Meredith.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. And I still find that quite surreal, actually, that six months before we first went into lockdown here in the U.K. I was writing about a character who was effectively self-isolating. So by the time I was in a very similar position to her, I felt like I had kind of done the whole jigsaw thing and the baking and the online connections and the Zoom calls. I think it helped me a little because if I was having a bad day or I was particularly stressed or worried about the pandemic and how it affected my family, I would think, well, what would Meredith do in this situation? Although I do have to say that I don't share her aptitude for jigsaws or for baking. So neither of those things were very useful to me.

SIMON: She takes all of that up while she is in her self-imposed isolation. She tells Tom, the visitor from Holding Hands, that what she's feeling feels like a constant weight. What puts that weight there?

ALEXANDER: Well, Meredith, she has mental health issues. But she also experienced something very traumatic that led to her isolation. And I think anyone who's gone through a trauma or has lived with mental health issues, that heaviness, that weight, I think that idea will be familiar to them. It certainly is something that I've experienced myself. And we just have to figure out how to lift it a little.

SIMON: You are also an accomplished freelance journalist, and you have written about mental health and sobriety for The Independent, for Glamour and other publications. May I ask, is something you learned in your journalism, something you wrote - did all of that put Meredith in your mind?

ALEXANDER: I've actually - I've been starting novels for a long time - probably 20 years - but never finishing them. "Meredith" (ph) was the one that stuck and the one I finished, finally. I mean, it's completely different type of writing to the reported pieces that I've done over the last several years. But all the research that went into those pieces about mental health and about therapy and everything that is connected to it as well as my own personal experience of mental health issues - I think that really gave me a confidence to tackle the subject.

I've read lots of books myself with characters who have mental health issues. And, you know, sometimes, I've been disappointed, just felt a bit shortchanged. And it was important to me that even though Meredith has gone through this massive trauma - and even during the course of the book in the present-day narrative, she has some really dark times - I didn't want her to be defined by her mental health in the same way as I don't want to be defined by mine. It's - you know, it's a big part...

SIMON: Yeah.

ALEXANDER: ...Of my life, but it's just one part. And I wanted to have lighter moments and really to show that Meredith is more than that. You know, she's funny. She's bright. She's interesting. She's interested in people.

SIMON: She's delightful and a great baker and a great friend.

ALEXANDER: She is. Yeah. She's a very good friend. And the new friendships that she makes during the course of the novel - which are really, you know, quite unexpected to her. And the way that she helps those people...

SIMON: Yeah.

ALEXANDER: ...As much as they help her, that is really a big part of her healing journey, I think.

SIMON: Now that "Meredith" is out in the world, will you miss her?

ALEXANDER: I do miss her, and I've just actually submitted my first draft of Book 2 to my publishers in the U.K. and in the U.S. It was almost like I was cheating on Meredith.

SIMON: (Laughter).

ALEXANDER: And I think I was just so invested in her and so - she's just so real to me. And, you know, she always will be, and she'll always be there. But I do. I do miss her. A few people have asked if I'll go back to her and to her story, but I think we'll just leave her in the place that she's in.

SIMON: Claire Alexander - her novel, "Meredith, Alone" - thank you so much for being with us.

ALEXANDER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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