January 28, 2013
I’m very glad to see that GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn has hit the top of the crime fiction charts. I read it last year, and thought it was exceptional. It’s about a yuppie New York couple, Nick and Amy, whose marriage is based on mutual self-regard – they both consider themselves bright, successful, and attractive – and a reassuring story they constantly they tell themselves about how happy they are together. However, when Nick loses his job, he and Amy move back to his home town in the mid-west to start a bar, an enterprise that’s a miserable failure. Their finances unravel, and in the process, their lack of emotional connection – indeed, their deep dislike for each other – is revealed. Amy vanishes, and via numerous twists and turns, we eventually find out why.
What I found so compelling about this book is that besides creating two entirely believable, unique characters, Flynn also manages to show how they’re the product of a greedy,banal culture that undervalues compassion, loyalty, supportive communities – indeed, everything it takes to build a marriage. Her individuals are mostly unpleasant (apart from the dowdy, dogged cops) but they never degenerate into ‘types’, because we see all too clearly how they developed into the people they are. Her portrait of the couples’ parents – on both sides – is chilling, particularly in the way she shows how a certain kind of neglectful over-praising of children leads them to an unwarranted sense of entitlement and high self-esteem in adult life. So, too, is her description of how a relentless focus on commodities and lifestyle – also characteristic of the eighties – produces a couple who believe that if they look like the perfect match, they must be. Finally, Flynn’s account of the disintegrating communities of the mid-west, huddled around the outskirts of deserted shopping centres hit by the recession, sent a shiver down my spine.
This is a very bleak book, in many ways. As such, I thought it was destined to become a cult classic rather than a bestseller. But it’s extremely encouraging for all of us – writers and readers alike – that it’s done so well, especially with the amount of drivel that’s recently been topping the charts.
This week, I went to the Pan Macmillan women’s fiction party. All the authors got to wear corsages (flowers, not basques) . It was the first time I’ve been given a flower for writing a book, and it was very nice. (It looks a bit the worse for wear in the photo here, after a few too many proseccos and the journey home on the train.) Anyway, the publisher gave a speech in which he defined women’s fiction as being essentially about ‘relationships’ and ‘redemption’. I started thinking about this with regard to the Flynn book. It was all about relationships, so that seemed right. As to redemption, I wasn’t so sure.
I thought more about it, and came to the conclusion that a book revealing the truth, however depressing, has a strong redemptive quality. It’s so invigorating, and such a relief from the lies we so often tell ourselves. That’s why some of my favourite novels, like Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (incredibly similar to the Flynn, transported to a different age) and Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark are cathartic. Nobody gets transformed, nobody gets happy – but the author has taken the trouble to nail exactly how human beings are thwarted in their continuous, and sometimes entirely self-deluded, quest to do so. In that sense, these stories are redemptive, because they make us take a long, hard look at the society we live in,and think about how it can corrupt our personal relationships, in the most insidious of ways, unless we take care not to let that happen.
January 20, 2013
Copies of my new novel arrived this week in a big box. I felt very pleased and proud. The hardback seemed much more substantial than I’d imagined, or perhaps it was just the sensation of actually holding the finished book in my hand, after so many months of writing, rewriting, editing, discussions, and so on. Anyway, I felt a real sense of achievement, all the more valuable because I’m right in the middle of writing the next one, Mirror Twin.
I’ve decided give some time to painting and drawing, so my friend Carol and I are meeting up once a week for a couple of hours to have a go. We’ve done two sessions so far, and enjoyed them. We both did ‘A’ level art about a million years ago, but Carol went on to art college, and continued to sketch a lot, so she’s now a very good draughtswoman. We’re doing some still life drawings at the moment, with a bit of watercolour thrown in. She’s been helping me get my objects to sit properly; they seem to float about – or even fly around – in space, whereas hers are nicely grounded. So far, we’ve been meeting at my house in the late afternoon, and one of the pleasures has been noticing the light fading a little more slowly each time. The other has been thinking of seasonal arrangements, such as these.
January 13, 2013
A trip to Builth Wells this week, to see my friend,artist and musician Jeb Loy Nichols. He lives near Welshpool, so we met half way between there and Cardiff. Going up to Builth entails driving through the Brecon Beacons, always a spectacular sight. That day, the sun was shining brightly, but looking down the road I saw a valley swathed in thick fog. Moments later, I drove slap bang into it. Everything went white and it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead. Then, just as suddenly, I came out the other side again, into bright sunshine. Very Lord of the Rings.
Jeb and I met at the Drover’s Tea Rooms in Builth, an old-fashioned establishment that serves great home-made soup. Then we wandered round the town, which boasts an ancient bridge, a large statue of a prize bull, and a number of murals, including this one:
January 6, 2013
I spent new year at the Druidstone Hotel, Pembrokeshire, as guest of some friends who rent a cottage in the grounds there. Strangely enough, it’s only now that I realise how much the place was in my mind while writing my novel The House on the Cliff. The hotel is an old farmhouse, whereas the house in the book is a Jacobean mansion; but the spectacular setting, on the edge of a cliff overlooking St Bride’s Bay, is very much the same.
Today was another coastal ramble, up to Rest Bay near Porthcawl, where surfers were out in force. Quite a few of the surfers were using paddles, which I haven’t seen before. Less lying on the board, more standing up like a gondolier. The sea looked freezing. Afterwards a lot of the surfers had gathered at the cafe overlooking the bay, which serves delicious warm biscuits on surfboard-shaped tables looking out over the sea.