New York Blueprint: Just to start off, can you talk a little bit about where the idea for “The Legacy” came from?
Melanie Phillips: A number of ideas gradually came together. I think a major prompt was my father’s death in 1998. That left me with a strong sense of “unfinished business”, not the least of which was that there were unexplained mysteries about my family background and early life. It’s often difficult to mourn and grieve properly in those circumstances, and so an important part of the novel was the exploration of that process and the attempt to bring about some kind of resolution.
Some years previously, I had come across someone who had stumbled upon a medieval manuscript and that experience had lodged in my mind. I also read a book which related a particularly shocking story about Holocaust Europe and which made an enormous impression on me. Once I had written my own “medieval manuscript” for the novel, the rest of the story, including the mystery that it represents and the attempt to unravel it, gradually fell into place. And it became obvious to me that the journey being traveled by my central character, Russell, would take him into the territory I know so well: the persistent antisemitism in Britain and the deep ambivalence and discomfort of British Jews with their identity.