Virtue: A Novel | In Conversation with Author Hermione Hoby
![](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472d76858f508277c0ba991_Hermione%2BHoby%2Bc%2BNina%2BSubin%2BOLD.jpeg) It is an easy response to say that there is hope for the future, as if the future might hold some sort of answer or resolution. And while it might, it is not the seconds that continue to pass beyond us that will “save” the world from its furies, but the decisions we make every day in order to reach just a tendril of change. But even then, is that enough? Hermione Hoby’s second novel, _Virtue_ rests on the last page of _Flaunt_’s The Future Experience issue, our ode to the new generation full not just of hope that they might create something worth saving, but the knowledge that they are. And what better way to celebrate than with a story of youth, desire, and the trial and tribulations of becoming. Hoby’s _Virtue: A Novel_ follows 23-year-old Luca navigating through the new era of social change as an intern at an elite magazine. The novel proposes the question all young people will eventually ask themselves: “What does it mean to be a good person,” to be virtuous and purposeful in a world that is not.  The London-raised and Colorado-based writer is the author of _Virtue_ and the novel _Neon in Daylight_, which was named as a _New York Times_ Editors’ Choice twice. Her writing has also appeared in _The New Yorker_, _Harper’s Magazine_, _The Guardian_, _The New York Times_, and _Frieze_. We had the lovely opportunity to speak with Hoby about what inspired _Virtue_ and the role of art in dire and ever-turbulent times.  ![](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472d76858f508277c0ba98e_Hermione%2BHoby%2B%2528c%2529%2BBenjamin%2BKunkel.jpeg) **Where in London are you at the moment?**  This is my former childhood bedroom at my parent’s place. I'm actually there in the suburbs, the Southeast suburbs. It's kind of nice because I'm sitting at the little desk where I wrote a lot of the book, so it feels like a pleasant full circle.  **What were you like when you were a teenager?**  I did a lot of reading. Up until the age of 14, I was incredibly shy. I just had a really unfortunate haircut, and I'm sort of shortsighted that my glasses sort of look like joke glasses. And then I got content lenses and discovered makeup and became the next phase of a teenager. I was very studious, very hard working. But I guess I became a little more relaxed as time went on. God, it's hard. I feel such distance from my teenage self that  I don't really know who she was, but should I get my parents? They can probably give you a better answer.  **That makes sense. It is hard to define who we were back then if we can’t even describe who we are now.**  I think it's a lifelong project trying to work out who we are. I saw some friends whom I haven't seen in years and years. I'm back here in London, and it was so amazing to see them. And I said to my partner, ‘You know, it's kind of incredible that they just don't seem changed.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, maybe self-transformation is quite an American concept’ that I've perhaps unwittingly absorbed, this idea that we must keep changing. We're such provisional beings, made by other people and by what we read. I want to feel a sense of self, but I also don't want to feel complacent and not keep interrogating who I am and who I might become because it’s hard to find a balance and too much of that is psychically exhausting. **Exactly. So, I kind of want to start at the beginning. How did you found your affinity for writing?**  At four years old, my favorite thing was to fold paper in half, staple it and make books and write little stories.  In fact, they're probably in the cupboard above me, retained by adoring parents. As soon as I could read and write, this just seemed central to me. I had so much veneration for books and fiction that I think the idea of becoming a writer myself felt almost like a temerity because it was this thing I just revered. I wrote nonfiction my whole time at university. I studied English for three years, and then I moved to New York a couple of years after graduating from university.  I think that really freed me in so many ways. I think there is something very liberating about being a stranger in a place as a tourist in a way. I had a sense of exemption, and I think that is a very useful state for a writer and just way more prosaically. I had been working at _The Guardian_ here in London. Then I went freelance, so I just had more time and more space. I started writing fiction, which was hard because no one was asking for it, and I was trying to make a living as a freelance writer. It felt very hard to decide not to write something for money and instead get over the sense of self-indulgence and vanity and putting aside an hour or two, just to ride this private thing that no one was asking for and also felt way beyond my abilities. I think for people, I think that's natural, you are always trying to narrow that gap between aspiration and talent. Because if you’re reading Virginia Woolf, you think what is the point of me trying. It's always going to fall short, but people try nonetheless. Even though this love for language and love in particular for fiction was there from a very young age, it took me a long time to even think that I might dare to possibly do it and become a writer.  **I think artists and maybe people, in general, are inherently self-deprecating and believe that it's bigger than them.**  I think that believing it's bigger is a really useful and true thing because when you do that, it's a way of sidestepping ego. I think that seems necessary to me. There is this paradox where a novel enemy can be so much of myself and taken from myself. But at the same time, it has to feel like it's something that I am in service to that I'm serving the book rather than it being mine. **I wanted to see if you would share what your creative process is like.**  My creative process is highly inefficient and fraught with doubt. I say this as I've only written two novels, so I can only go on these two, but it seems I'm sort of led by language. Other writers have are driven by ideas or a sense of plot. And for me it's language, and with this one, in particular, it was a voice. I just had Luca’s voice in my head and that felt compelling. It was from there that things grew. So for me, it's the character that dictates the plot. I feel like if I properly know my characters, then I know what they're going to do. It's like they can sort of dictate to me what's going to happen because I'm fully in touch with them. Virtue.jpg ![Virtue.jpg](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472d76348d95e2d7ea0a873_Virtue.jpeg) **What was your inspiration for _Virtue: A Novel_?**  I guess one thing that was really occupying a lot of my mental space at that moment was what the point of art might be during a time of political crisis. I think for so many people when the 2016 election happened, it was an existential moment. I felt like I had to take account of what I was doing and what the utility of it was because it felt like things are so dire, how can I justify making up stories sitting alone at my laptop. I should be on the streets all the time. What will we tell our grandkids? And I very much don't want kids, but I think what will I tell my imaginary grandkids? And I guess this question of beauty and duty and whether these two things might be compatible. I think they are, but I think we tend to distrust beauty when things are as dire as they are.  I mean, I suppose too, I was thinking about just how much a person can do. I was talking about this with some friends the other night, particularly in times of ecological disaster, there's the impulse to do, just because the problems are so enormous and insurmountable and our political systems just don't seem to be serving us anymore and are so woefully ill-equipped to deal with what's going on. There's this impulse, which is shameful they're forgivable just to turn away and just be like, ‘Well, I'm just going to look off to my tribe.’ The world is fucked, but we'll hunker down and make sure we've got enough cans of soup in the basement. You see this with like the hyper-rich, like going off to the New Zealand bunkers. So I guess I have a sense of this small world. I think I used that phrase in the book of the tribe and then the big world. How much can it pass into and how much should we be engaging with the big world without completely losing our minds, and is there still room for pleasure and joy? At times like these, I think the act of writing a novel is itself an answer to that question. I spent four years writing a novel, and I went on some marches, but I did not become a political organizer. I didn't change my life in any outward way. I was talking to Ben, my partner when the Gaza bombing was happening. I think there was this image of these little kids who saved their kitten from the bombing. And I was like, ‘How could I post a picture of my cat on Instagram when this is happening in the world?’ And it’s the reason for fighting against, for example, the bombing of a country is because we all deserve to pet our cat. It's like, we need the things that make life worth living, which is not just an absence of disaster, but I will say pleasure and beauty and kinship and all the rest. But I think during the pandemic, when the crisis has been truly global, There's been so much guilt. I think at the same time, perhaps it renewed sense of having to take these pleasures when we can, and there isn't anything shameful or decadent about that, which isn't to say we should also just turn away from the world. I think the two things can co-exist. **What might you hope readers will take home with them?** There's just an infinite number of responses and it's been so exciting to me. And I think this is the beautiful thing about fiction is that there are as many versions of that novel as its readers. Everyone reads in a different way and sees the characters in a different way.  it's just a beautiful thing to me that we all sort of share the basic same story of a book, but it’s ours. **Why do you think are you compelled to write about the coming-of-age stage of adolescence, and why do you think it is such a commodity?**  I suppose, I mean, if I were to kind of psychoanalyze the west or everyone, it might be that in this time of global crisis, we all feel clueless and unmoored. And we're young people trying to navigate the world because the world is changing beneath our feet and a very destabilizing place to be. I think there's something useful about a pretty young and guileless narrator who's simultaneously smart and observant. That's just a good vessel for seeing the world through. If you want to raise her as just a short and knowing, I noticed interesting to be with, because there's no discovery that if someone is already, already knows exactly who they are and what they think about everything, I mean, that's just quite obnoxious in real life as well. But with this book, it seemed to me that having this first-person narrator, that having it, um, a retrospective narrative was kind of a way of having my cake and eating it too, because I could move in and out of Luca at 23 and Luca at 34. And in that way, I could make the first person have sort of the malleability of the, and the kind of authorial note of the third person because he's all throwing himself. He's kind of moving in and out. And I always ask why am I writing? These years, this administration, I find it hard to say his name from the vantage of this imagined future. And I think because I need to believe that there comes a time after this and that, we're not just entering a fascist dictatorship for the rest of our lives.  **What do think this novel might predict for the future, and what do you hope for?** I'd love to see full ecosocialism now, but I don't know if we're going to get that. My hope at the beginning of the pandemic was that an international problem would foster a more international mindset.  The environment doesn't hate national borders. I mean, I believe in borders, but I also think we urgently need, an internationalist perspective, which is one of interdependence where we feel as responsible for people dying from COVID in India or anywhere as we do. So, I really hope there is an opening up of perspective. I hope for just greater compassion and if we realized that we are truly interdependent, particularly as the planet, maybe that will just foster kindness and awareness that we're just this one tribe. I mean, this is all hopelessly idealistic. The increasing pressure of all these interlocking crises. And, but I will say that as people read more fiction in this oblique, but very real way, I think that's going to help with these kinds of perspectives. It is the corniest and most overused term and I'm sick of it, but we do need more empathy.  **Do you have hope in the young people?**  I do. For many years I mentored a teenage girl. Even from the age of 13, she was just speaking with this ferocious, magnificent eloquence about feminism and intersectionality. My generation did not have that. I think we came of age in a shamefully, apolitical time. And so the thing that really excites me about the younger generation is just how astute they are and how they realize that politics is their business, it is not some dorky pursuit. It is their lives. They really care. And that to me is really encouraging, that gives me hope.