The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Breaking taboos in Maltese Literature

Tuesday, 28 September 2021, 10:58 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday speaks to KIRSTEN SPITERI, author of Perfettament Imperfetta, published by Merlin Publishers. This new novel for adults is a coming of age story. It’s the story of two men – one a young teenager, the other an older man in his late 60s – both obsessed with a beautiful teenage girl.

Perfettament Imperfetta, your new novel, has made waves in the past month since publication: lots of people seem to be reading it and recommending it by word of mouth. Why do you think that is?

Research shows that word of mouth remains the most likely way that readers make their purchasing decisions and this is true especially with younger readers. People reading Perfettament Imperfetta are mostly young adults and persons in their 20s or 30s, who are less shy when it comes to matters of sex and drugs.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

This is not your first novel, but it is different to the others in both genre and language. Why the change?

After my first three novels were published within a relatively short time, I started getting a reputation as a science fiction writer, but I was convinced I could achieve more than just be linked to one genre. I wanted to experiment and discover other genres, so I decided that the next novel was going to be something totally different.

I wanted to write this novel in Maltese because it's my native tongue, and because I hope, in my own small way, to contribute to the body of Maltese literature that will be passed on to future generations. This does not exclude future works in English or other languages as well. I might choose to write something in Italian somewhere down the line.

 

A reviewer has recently commented that one of the strengths of Perfettament Imperfetta is that it reassures readers that they're not alone in having constant sexual thoughts. Did Perfettament set out to be a 'sexual' novel, or did that just happen?

I originally started writing Perfettament Imperfetta to participate in the Young Adult Literary competition organised by the National Book Council.

The idea was to have an introverted pubescent teenager, Wade, who is befriended by his two new teenage neighbours - Matt, a boy his same age and Charlotte, a girl near the age of 18. Wade would quickly develop an all-consuming crush for Charlotte and this infatuation would become a form of worship. Wade would describe Charlotte's apparent perfection in his diary by writing in detail about her graceful bubble butt. Then I started including erotic dreams, nocturnal emissions, masturbation, and that's when I started to think that my chances of winning the contest were suddenly very slim.

I knew self-censorship was an option but I never really considered it. I felt that like anyone else, I had a right to express myself freely. I decided not to submit the manuscript to the contest and to try to find a publisher myself once the manuscript was completed. That's when I included Manuel Ruggier, the older character, who was not part of the original plan.

So, to answer the question, I feel that Perfettament Imperfetta did not set out to be a "sexual" novel, but it just happened to be.

 

Speaking of sex, there is a refreshingly taboo-free language in your book that manages to steer the fine line between being frank avoiding cringey clichés and at the same time not being sensationalist. What were your influences here?

I kept a balance between "being frank" and "not being sensationalist" because that's what the novel needed. Perfettament Imperfetta is written as a series of personal diary entries where two men are expressing thoughts and feelings about their craving for sex with a girl. It was inevitable. I had to use a taboo-free language. At the same time, there was no need to be sensationalist because all that happened between the characters was consensual. If I had to describe a rape, I would have used different words, which probably would have sounded more sensationalist.

I was influenced by classics such as Nabokov's Lolita and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, but also by the Italian film Malèna by Giuseppe Tornatore.

 

Perfettament Imperfetta has been praised for its skilful exploration of men at different ages of life. Why did you set out to narrate two so different characters?

As already mentioned, Manuel Ruggier's character was not part of the original plan. Originally, this had to be "simply" a coming-of-age novel, telling the story of Wade's infatuation for Charlotte.

However, when Wade's and Charlotte's story was completed, I went over the manuscript several times and I always felt that there was something missing. That's when I decided to include Manuel to form an intergenerational love triangle. This decision was influenced by the relationship between Lolita and Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's classic.

 

Yes, subverting the male gaze in the novel was a deliberate writing choice.

Charlotte is a girl you can only dream about. She is the kind of girl you see in a commercial licking an ice cream cone. She is the kind of girl you can see on a Hollywood movie poster, showing off her bottom, highlighted by a spandex superhero suit. She is the femme fatale that makes every man go crazy.

BUT ... she is not a victim to the male gaze. She knows both men are obsessed over her. She provokes them. She controls them. She is moulded by modern society and the world around her, as well as a product of her personal past.

 

And finally, what's next for Kirsten Spiteri, the author?

I mainly have two different ideas on what to write next. Either a sequel to Perfettament Imperfetta or a story told in the first person by a man whose mental state is deteriorating.

I want to decide in the coming months on which idea I shall focus and start working on it.


  • don't miss