It is just more than a year since I wrote the first post of this blog I was not at all sure that I would keep going. My aim then was to average one a week. Sometimes I have done more than that, but overall I have done less: this is number forty.
Anyway happy birthday, blog! And thank you to all the readers who have taken the time to check out what I’ve had to say, and even more thanks to those who have responded to the ideas and interacted with them, and with me. This is in many, many respects an “old fashioned” blog – it is functional rather than replete with bells and whistles, it tends to be about subjects most people could not care less about, it is written in what smashwords calls the “New Zealand dialect” of English, and of course it is written by me in my way, with my style which is unlikely to suit everybody. So I’m pretty happy to discover that there are people out there in netland who share my interests and concerns..
This is an opportunity to look at how it’s been and how I might change it. The model I would think of would be – again – Dostoevsky and his Writer’s Notebook. This amazing work was meant to be monthly but he didn’t manage it all that long. The notebook or diary was a sort of miscellany. Dostoevsky included short pieces of fiction along with commentary and essays, and he gave full throttle to his often surprising and sometimes unpalatable views.
The thing about Dostoevsky that can be maddening is that he can be very hard to pin down, not unlike another of my favourite writers, Celine. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged as some kind of weird loony, he slithers away and appears on the other side of the bog where you’ve been wrestling with him, and while you are filthy from the muck, he’s already had a nice bath, a shave, has changed into something decent and is waving gaily to you as he makes off with the beautiful woman* you turned up with to show how you would deal with this monster.
What mattered for Dostoevsky about the diary apart from making a living was that he was engaged with the world around him. He really launched into issues and didn’t flinch, even a millimetre, from his adversaries. To his contemporaries, he did seem eccentric: once a revolutionary and an apostle of the western road to social and economic development he had turned his back on revolutionary socialism. Once a slavophil, he had harsh things to say about and to them too. It seems his final position if that is possible to say, was his own brand of Christian socialism. He didn’t think that at all out of kilter with a tsar, nobility and all the trappings that go with them, as well as the Orthodox Christianity he stoutly opposed to the European Christianity he’d experienced on his travels (he was especially down on Catholicism).
Despite the many specific dissimilarities there is something similar about the issues of Dostoevsky’s time in Russia and our own. Everyone in Russia, whatever their views, knew the country was in crisis We are in a similar fix in that general sense. Things aren’t going well economically, and the “green shoots” of recovery people keep seeing seem awfully feeble.
Moreover, there is, and has been for quite a while, a spiritual crisis in the West that has been in various ways the focus of my fiction from the first. So far, I’ve not discussed my work and its underlying themes in this way. Is it a lack of courage? Perhaps. Maybe it is just a feeling that I should leave the work to itself, that people should find what they want to find in it, without hints or “guides” from their creator beyond the general. I will have to think about this. Readers will see a change, if there is one, as I go along.
Meanwhile the big deal for me has happened and Kaos is up on the smashwords site, ready for perusal and even purchase by a grateful/gullible public. This is the seventh novel I’ve put up there. Am I blase about it all, a battle-scarred veteran of market wars?
According to me that’s good. It means I still care about what I write, even if no one else does, that the fundamental reasons I started to write in the first place haven’t changed even if I have: to communicate feelings and ideas, to give people pleasure and if they wish, something to think about. Naturally I want my books to be good as I think they are good, and ideally to challenge, to provoke readers, even if gently.
A lot of what I do is “counter-intuitive”, and that makes me anxious – that the people I hope will read my work will “understand me too quickly” as Norman Mailer said of his own writing. Celine, the bizarre Frenchman I have referred to so often in these posts, was said to have wished in a diary he wrote early in his life that he wanted to drag people through the mud of reality so that, having been as yucky as can be, they would be more free, as a result of accepting the reality of the human condition.
I don’t have the confidence to have such exalted aims…but I would like to think that people who approach my work with an open mind and who look beneath the words, do also emerge more free, even when this is in a negative sense. Anyone who has read my books knows that I write about extreme people a lot, and about different people. I want to show these differences as fully human…and not sheltering under a label. My heroines and heroes are not perfect, and my villains are typically not only not wholly evil, but sometimes not the sort of people nowadays thought even to be capable of evil. And when they are wholly evil, it is clearly set out.
Naturally I try to do more than one thing with my novels; novels are about doing more than one thing, or so I reckon, which is partly why people write them and read them. Kaos is a sort of satire on maleness, on male fantasies and male self-regard, but it is more and different than that too, in particular relating to the moral values of sexuality. While I was writing it, Doestoevsky’s novel Demons** was in my mind. The idea is that everything is turned inside out, and then inside out again, if you take my meaning. Well, I am not sure I want you to, dear reader! I want you to read my book…indeed all my books!
There is a lot I would like to say about Kaos but am not sure I should. Meanwhile the realities of life do not go away: housework, for example.
Thanks for reading.
* Or if if is your preference, beautiful man.
**There have been at least four translations of this great novel: by Constance Garnett, David Magarshack, Robert Maguire, and the new flavours of the month, Pevear and Volokhonsky. I have read the first three of these and cannot recommend the Maguire highly enough. Translators can produce masterpieces and this one qualifies according to me. Pevear and Volokhonsky get raves for their work but while I have not read their version of Demons, it lacks the notes of the Maguire, which are very valuable. And their version of The Adolescent, while workpersonlike, disappointed me.