As soon as you say I in a novel, it’s always someone else?
What I mean is: perhaps to the outside world this might seem strange, where I am interviewed by my double –
Well exactly –
But what I want to say is: how different is this to what happens every day when someone writes a novel? Or even: when someone reads a novel? Always you have this blurring of identities. Or not so much blurring as separation.
No you need to explain that.
I just mean: the moment you have a narrator in a novel, however close it is to you in its features or tone of voice, there is always this gap in which the person you are using to say I doesn’t quite match up with your everyday silhouette.
[A nervous pause.]
Have I lost you?
I guess I’m just thinking: don’t you find it strange, using narrators who talk in your voice but say things you would never say?
But for me that’s the basic pleasure. Playing loop-the-loop with what I am, or helterskelter with what I could be. I think that’s a deep pleasure of why anyone might write at all.
And is that what was happening in Lurid & Cute?
Well of course! Do I seem to you the kind of person who would enjoy such immorality: the narcotic-taking, the orgies, the firearms disputes…?
I don’t know, I’m not sure. This narrator says his eyes are large and his hair is gently spiky. That basically is a description of you.
But also, as you know, my wife’s name isn’t Candy.
[A suspicious pause.]
Well then, let’s discuss this narrator of yours. He seems to be a champion of the outré aphorism, and the effect can be sometimes disturbing.
Let’s put it like this: one of the obsessions of this narrator of mine is pleasure, or happiness. There’s a sequence of his which I think is kind of poignant: ‘just tell me this: if you are going to die, do you prefer to be told, or die at once? Because me, I would like to die at once, with no one telling me anything. For in the end I prefer more happiness to more truth.’
You think that’s a moral position? I mean, it might sound pretty, but if you start to think like that, you’re going to be on some shaky moral foundations.
But one reason to like or admire this narrator might be his way of making you wonder if in fact what at first seems problematic or unusual might conceal a deeper truth. Couldn’t that be one reason to do this silent thing called reading? To explore small dangerous avenues, little crazed dialogues with ourselves that we might not have in public? It’s like that wonderful image at the end of Proust’s novel: ‘Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book.’
So you are everyone?
Well that’s the hope.
Do you often find yourself resorting to the citation of dead people?
Well, how dead is dead? I kind of feel that it’s important to treat the dead with the same kind of urgency you’d treat the living.
Because this narrator of yours, he also likes to mention gurus and masters from bygone ages.
Well why not? These people offer rules for living, and this narrator is nothing if not eager to establish rules for living. And anyway: think of all the small units and pixels that now constitute a mind. The strangeness of the mashup world we live in is that most mashups are done with material long since dead and buried. That’s surely one way of thinking nowadays – to use whatever material comes to your attention, in one horizontal flow?
So OK then: let’s set the scene.
The landscape of this novel is a dreamlike kind of suburbia. I guess geographically it’s located in the way-out environs of London, but this London has undergone a certain tropicalisation – with new fauna and flora.
Why not the usual suburbia?
Because one thing which is so strange about suburbia is how non-specific it is: it’s this horizontal global vagueness. But no, why not let my narrator speak? ‘Take your pick wherever on the globe you like, in Kabul or Santiago, the same landscape is there before your eyes. Because in fact most inhabitants of Kabul do not live precisely in that city but instead on its edges, where Kabul disintegrates into vast light and vacant streets, the kind where the pavement is listless and there are only a very few streetlights, maintained by random generators in concrete huts. That’s where most people are nowadays, and it means that when you travel to any city of your choice you can find yourself at home, just so long as you get out far enough, not too far but just enough.’
And so in that kind of landscape you might come to be able to investigate major strangenesses that were otherwise invisible: problems of how to spend your time, or live your life. The giant metaphysical questions.
But with orgies?
An orgy can be a way of investigating philosophy, like anything else.
[A final pause.]
So then, what’s next for you?
You mean you.
I guess I do.
A move into interviewing.
ADAM THIRLWELL was born in London in 1978. He is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape; the novella Kapow!; and a project about international novels, The Delighted States, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. He edited a compendium of translations for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young Novelists. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in London.