In her new novel hitting shelves Tuesday, Tatiana de Rosnay — author of international bestseller “Sarah’s Key” — delivers a chilling “Black Mirror”-esque page-turner set in a near-future Paris.
Turns out the seeds for her suspenseful “Flowers of Darkness” just might be rooted in her Brookline schooldays.
As a kid attending John D. Runkle Elementary School, “I had a wonderful teacher called Miss Sebold, who told my mother I had a vivid imagination,” de Rosnay said in an e-mail interview from her Paris home. “She used to read us Edgar Allan Poe stories, and I’m sure my love of dark, scary tales stems from there.”
De Rosnay, 59, has lived in Paris most of her life, save for college years in England, and childhood years in New England.
“My mother is English. My father, scientist Joel de Rosnay, taught at MIT in the late ’60s and took us all — my mother, my sister and brother and myself — with him. So, I lived in Boston between the ages of 6 and 9. We lived in Brookline on Egmont Street, Carlton Street, and then Hyslop Road,” she said. “I have a fondness for Beacon Hill, and the Brookline Reservoir Park.”
Thanks in part, perhaps, to the early influence of Miss Sebold, de Rosnay has delivered a suspenseful tale of what happens when AI gets too intelligent:
After leaving her cheating husband, writer Clarissa Katsef moves into an artists’ residence in a high-tech Paris apartment complex, complete with its own AI virtual assistant she names “Mrs. Dalloway.” (“Mrs. Dalloway, turn on the kettle.” “Mrs. Dalloway, show me my e-mails.”) But since moving in, Clarissa has the feeling that someone — or something — is spying on her.
“I wanted to write about the very near future and how AI can — and already does — encroach upon our private lives and what this means on a personal level, how ‘smart homes’ can wreak havoc with our intimacy,” de Rosnay explained.
“This book is a voyage into a fragile woman’s obsessions,” she said. Clarissa’s “daughter thinks she is losing it, but her teenage granddaughter suspects her grandma has a point.”
One might read the book as a gripping “Black Mirror” episode.
“How interesting that you mention ‘Black Mirror,’ as I was so inspired by that TV show! ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was also an inspiration,” de Rosnay said. “I guess you could say this book explores how we view the future, why and how we have come to fear it, and how we need to be resilient and observant concerning it. Yes, Big Brother is still watching us.”
Mrs. Dalloway (and the name Clarissa) are references to the novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” by Virginia Woolf.
“And in that very novel is the phrase ‘flowers of darkness,’ ” de Rosnay said. “In 2018, I visited Monk’s House, Woolf’s extraordinary house near Brighton, in England. I was spellbound by it, by the atmosphere, the garden, and Woolf’s bedroom, her ‘room of her own.’ I knew I had to fit all this into my new book, somehow.”
Read the book before it hits the big screen: According to de Rosnay’s publicist, French film company Mandarin Productions has acquired film rights, with screenwriter and director Yann Gozlan attached.
While she’s written more than a dozen novels — four of which have become movies — de Rosnay is probably best-known for her 2007 smash success “Sarah’s Key,” which sold 11 million copies in 44 countries, and was adapted into a 2011 film.
“I even have a tiny cameo part in it,” de Rosnay said. “I was moved by Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film and loved the young brilliant actress who plays Sarah, Mélusine Mayance. My initial choice for Julia Jarmond was Jodie Foster, and I had her in mind when I wrote the book.” [Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julia in the film.]
The book tells the intertwining stories of a young girl, Sarah Starzynski, in World War II Paris, and that of Julia, a Boston native working as a journalist in Paris in 2002. Sarah was taken in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, a mass deportation of Jews, with her parents. She had locked her little brother in a cupboard, thinking she’d be right back. Decades later, Julia is working an article on Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary.
“It was difficult to get it published and it was turned down many times,” de Rosnay said of her novel. “I was told that kind of book just didn’t interest readers anymore. I nearly gave up. I have always been interested in places and houses. And how places and houses keep memories, how walls can talk. Many of my books explore that theme.”
Also fitting with that theme: de Rosnay’s last trip to Boston.
“The last time I was in Boston was for my book ‘Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier,’ in 2015. I gave a speech at the French Cultural Center on Marlborough Street, a lovely place.
“The next day I took my husband in front of all the homes we’d lived in,” she says. “I longed to knock on each door and say, ‘Hello, I grew up here as a child, may I come in?’ ’'
Learn more at www.tatianaderosnay.com.