The Dark Prince

Author Liz Jensen discusses "The Ninth Life of Louis Drax"…Talking shop with sculptor Will Ryman…Sipping bubbly with Mireille Guiliano.

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Liz Jensen

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When British author Liz Jensen started writing “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax” (Bloomsbury), her fifth novel, she didn’t quite realize it was autobiographical. The thriller unravels the mystery of what happened to Louis, a somber and sometimes even monstrous nine-year-old, who falls off a cliff during an argument with his mother at a family picnic gone awry and lands in a coma.

In the Thirties, on a holiday in Switzerland, Jensen’s grandmother had a fight with one of her sons, who went off into the mountains and was never seen or heard from again. When the weather turned bad and the search parties were called off, she insisted on going out to look for him. The grandmother died falling off a cliff.

“Nobody really knows what happened,” says the novelist. “It’s still a mystery.” Jensen’s mother was orphaned at 11 and brought up by an aunt and uncle. “When I started to write about a family going on a picnic in the mountains, that must have been in the back of my mind, but I didn’t realize until I was well into the book that I was writing about it.”

As for her mother’s reaction to the finished product, “she loves reading my books, but this is the one book that she just doesn’t get.”

“Louis Drax” has been a runaway success in the U.K., where it was published last summer (it hits bookstores Stateside this month). It has been compared with Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” which features another unusual hero, one who is afflicted with a disease akin to Asperger’s Syndrome. As it turns out, the two writers share a literary agent. Haddon turned in his book shortly before Jensen, and both books could soon be films: Brad Pitt’s company, Plan B, owns the rights to “Curious Incident,” and writer/director Anthony Minghella bought “Louis Drax.” (While “Curious Incident” crossed generations in readership, “Louis Drax” is more of a thriller marketed to adults.)

“I can now see it as a movie,” Jensen says, adding that Minghella’s optioning of the project took her by surprise. But the film “will give back my own story to me,” she explains. “I know I’ll be surprised and delighted — I’m looking forward to seeing what’s different.”
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