Honor Tait was a Pulitzer prize-winning war correspondent during the first half of the 20th century, renowned for her incisive journalism but also recognized for her beauty and romantic entanglements (both real and rumored). Tamara Sim has been asked to write a 4,000-word profile of Honor, who’s now nearing 80, for a highbrow magazine. Too bad Tamara is much more comfortable composing catty 200-word captions and snarky lists of celebrity gaffes. One of Honor’s pieces was among the texts Tamara was to study in college; Tamara didn’t finish the reading.
When Tamara arrives at Honor’s flat for their interview, it’s hate at first sight. The younger writer is 45 minutes late and clearly hasn’t read much of Honor’s work—not even the forthcoming book that’s the impetus for the interview. When Tamara finally gets Honor talking, Tamara spends most of the interview doodling her interpretations, factual or not, of the scene before her.
As the two women craft their current assignments—Tamara’s on Honor, Honor’s coda to her Pulitzer piece—British novelist Annalena McAfee illustrates the contrast between their work. Though Honor is writing about experiences decades in the past, she relies on fact and reporting. Tamara’s ever-changing narrative of her experiences with Honor becomes a different story every time Tamara puts pen to paper.
The Spoiler recounts the interaction between these women, opening with their disastrous first interview and then following both as they process the thoughts and challenges it instigated. Honor reflects on a career gone by, but Tamara worries that she doesn’t have enough information for a lively story after the initial botched conversation. So she crashes a supper with Honor’s closest confidantes, attends a lecture Honor gives (but fails to take notes on the content), spends days outside of Honor’s house and then follows her on excursions across town, seeking a sexy, scandalous angle for her piece.
A journalist herself, McAfee creates a complete picture of the world in which the two writers exist, giving life to the newspaper office where Tamara works four days a week, and detailing every picture and trinket in Honor’s home. And by the time the twists of this story are untangled, Honor’s and Tamara’s lives are inextricably interwoven.