Laisha Rosnau has been referred to as a “CanLit star” since penning her first novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow, way back in 2002.
Now, the Vernon-based author is launching her second novel, Little Fortress, at the Caetani Cultural Centre – a fitting venue, given that the Caetani family’s history figures strongly into her latest work of fiction. Rosnau’s book launch will take place on Oct. 3 from 7 to 9 p.m at the centre.
Based on a remarkable true Canadian story from the 1920s, Little Fortress tells the story of three women: the agoraphobic Countess Ofelia Caetani; her daughter, the bright and artistic Sveva Caetani; and their trusted secretary Miss Juul.
The Caetanis were a family of Italian nobility, driven out of their home by the rise of fascism. They settled in Vernon but made frequent trips to big cities around the world, giving the novel both a localized and international scope.
For 25 years, Ofelia kept her daughter as little more than a prisoner in her own home, increasingly relying on Miss Juul to maintain their strange lifestyle. Rosnau depicts how these three different women navigated still-relevant social concerns in a way that speaks to contemporary questions of control, female connections, immigration and social turmoil.
“What fascinated me as a novelist” says Rosnau, “was how did these women who led these really large lives – these lives that took place all over the world – come to then seclude themselves in a house on Pleasant Valley Road for 25 years?”
Rosnau sought answers to this question and many more in the pages of historical documents – and in walls and air of the Caetani family home. Rosnau completed parts of the novel as a writer on residence at the Centre.
“For six or more months I wrote the novel on the grounds at the Caetani House, and it was a really productive, magical time,” she says.
“I also felt superstitiously that if the women I was writing about had anything to say from the other side, they were going to let me know,” she added with a laugh.
Supposing for a moment that the Caetani girls could and did have anything to say to Rosnau, it must have been something along the lines of approval, as Rosnau says writing Little Fortress came without any barriers despite the novel being nine years in the making.
Author of half a dozen works of short poetry, Rosnau recently won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and three CBC literary awards, among others.
At the book launch, Rosnau will be speaking about the things that drew her to the historic and eccentric Caetani family, and how she managed to bring their story to life. She’ll discuss the importance and difficulties of telling candid, tough stories about female relationships, the consequences of immigration and isolation on communities, families and individuals. She’ll even delve into the future of CanLit as she sees it and how her recent acclaim has shaped her practice as a writer.