Once Upon A Twice : The Unassigned Hour | Sunday Observer

Once Upon A Twice : The Unassigned Hour

27 December, 2020
: Varune Tillekeratne, Jeyani Tillekeratne & Ushana Tillekeratne
Images: Varune Tillekeratne, Jeyani Tillekeratne & Ushana Tillekeratne

Earlier this year, author Santhoshya Jayamali Seneviratne published her latest book, Once Upon A Twice: The Unassigned Hour, a dramatic fiction short novel inspired by the life and works of real-life controversial French novelist Emile Zola, specifically the relationship he shared with his mistress, Jeanne Rozerot.

Though based on real people and events, the story is ultimately a fiction, portraying the relationship between a young female writer and a professor of the performing arts who releases a screenplay derived from one of Zola’s actualstories.

The characters’ entanglement parallels the affair between Zola and Rozerot, simultaneously depicted in the book in order to draw out a new interpretation not only of Rozerot’s perspective but also of Zola’s short story, Pour unenuitd’Amour or For a Night of Love.

Having completed French Language and Literature as her major and having worked as a French Language teacher in Sri Lanka, Santhoshya’s strong interest in literature led her to discovering Emile Zola’s lengthy and controversial history.

As a progenitor of the literary and theatrical naturalist movement, as well as an influential French thinker and public figure, Zola, was quite the infamous figure in France’s history.

A major player in the Dreyfus affair, a huge political scandal that divided all of French society, his ultimate untimely death of carbon monoxide poisoning even brought up rumors of a political assassination. His particular writing style depicted realism and the darker side of society, though how he wrote drew criticism from his contemporaries, calling it crude and morbid.

Reinterpretation

Through her book, Santhoshya sought to shed some more light on the less well-known aspects of this hugely famous figure by reinterpreting them from the point of view of his mistress, Jeanne Rozerot, a figure mostly left out by history, her children only ever receiving legitimacy after Zola’s death. Over the course of her research of him and his work, Santhoshya came upon the idea that Zola made a mistake in writing Pour unenuitd’Amour, wherein he painted the woman of the story’s love triangle in a villainous light.

Santhoshya believes Zola himself would have recognised this error and reflects that in her novel. She understands that her reinterpretations might not be well received by certain French communities but stands by her assertions.

Due to the nature of this story being based on reality, all of it pretty much includes or parallels actual events and people to the extent that she and her publishers felt the need to contact French authorities just in case any issues arose though none did.

Initially published abroad, her book was well received in countries like Canada, places with strong French communities but she is optimistic that there will also be an audience for it in Sri Lanka as well.

As was the case with her previous work, Illicit, Santhoshya prefers to write thought provoking and dramatic stories with lots of conflict as opposed happier, lighthearted stories, which she mentioned reflect her personal preferences as a reader quite accurately.

She noted how those who have read her previous work, which was her first published story, liked this one much better, which she attributed to her growth as an author.

Having had an interest in writing and literature since her youth, Santhoshya had been writing stories for a while before she actually wrote her first published book.

She advised prospective authors to have that same passion and write from the heart. She also noted that in Sri Lanka it was much easier to get a book published than it was in Canada and North America, where she was but one in an ocean of authors, and urged Sri Lankan authors to just go for it.

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