Christine Leunens

Christine is a novelist of literary fiction and historical fiction. She researched the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship in literature in English.

PhD awarded 2012

Born in Hartford, Connecticut to an Italian mother and a Belgian father, Christine moved to Paris as a teenager. There she developed a close relationship with her grand-father, Guillaume Leunens, the Flemish painter.

Christine holds a Master of Liberal Arts in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. Her Master's thesis, 'Henry James and the Late-Nineteenth Century Aristocracy under the Napoleonic Code: Madame de Vionnet and a Contextual Reading of The Ambassadors' won the Dean's Thesis Prize in the Humanities. Christine and her family made New Zealand their home in 2006. She received a Victoria University of Wellington Doctoral Scholarship to write a third novel as part of her PhD thesis at the IIIML: 'Literary Mothers-in-Law – A Can of Sunshine (novel), and Evolution of a Thorny Nature: Novels in English and the Mother-in-Law (critical study)'.

In 1996, Christine received a prize from the Centre National du Cinéma in France for best scenario. Leunens' first novel, Primordial Soup, was published by Dedalus in the UK in 1999 and received praise in The Times, The Sunday Times, Independent, Publishers Weekly, etc. A new edition of Primordial Soup is to be published in 2019.

Her second novel, Caging Skies, published by Random House New Zealand in 2008, has since become an international bestseller, a new edition appearing in 2019, along with editions from John Murray in the UK and Overlook/Abrams in the United States. Translated into over twenty languages, the French translation was nominated for the Prix Médicis, awarded to an 'author whose fame does not yet match her talent', and the Prix FNAC. A play adaptation of Caging Skies, written by Desirée Gezentsvey and directed by Andrew Foster, premiered at Circa Theatre in 2017.

The film adaptation, Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi, won the People's Choice Award at the International Toronto Film Festival, and was nominated for six BAFTA Awards and six Academy Awards. Taika and Christine were nominated for USC's Scripter Award that 'honors both the author and the screenwriter', and were also awarded an AFI Award for their 'contribution to American's Cultural Legacy'. In 2020, Jojo Rabbit won the BAFTA Award and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as the Humanitas Prize for its story that  'promotes dignity, meaning and freedom'.

Leunens' third novel, A Can of Sunshine, was published in New Zealand by RSVP Publishing in October 2013 and was put on the NZ Herald's Best Books of the Year List 2013. It was also published by Editions Meridiano Zero (Italy) and Editions Philippe Rey (France) in 2014.

Christine is currently living in Nelson, putting the finishing touches to a Franco-New Zealand historical novel, while writing the film adaption of it.

The critical component of her thesis consisted of a study of the mother-in-law figure in literature in English. It explored the cultural stereotype of the mother-in-law in proverbs from around the word, theatre, lyrics and literary references. A focus on relative psychological, sociological and anthropological studies also contributed to a deeper understanding of the role of the mother-in-law and the universal vulnerabilities and contradictions attached to this role, particularly as limited to mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relations. The main questions of this thesis were: Why is it that of the over twenty works in English to be examined in this study, which range from the fourteenth-century to the twenty-first and encompass four continents, all contain a mother-in-law figure who is presented as jealous, possessive, manipulative, and whose dealings with the daughter-in-law are, at best, catty and unpleasant and, at worst, dangerous and deadly? In other words, why is she – in relation to her daughter-in-law – so nasty? How does each writer who dares take on this character bloated with stereotype deal with her artistically?

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