The runawayl


Sue Wilson talks to Harold

Brodkey, currently the hottest contender for the title of Great

American Novelist.

It feels pretty damn strange to be Harold Brodkey at the moment. That‘s the overriding impression I’m left with after interviewing the man behind the latest literary sensation. At 61 . Brodkey has just published his first full-length work of fiction. a sprawling, fearsomely crafted epic which aims to stretch the limits of language and syntax, inscribe the processes ofconsciousness. thought and memory like never before. The Runaway Soul has been launched with a level of fanfare and fierceness ofensuing debate rare even in the present hyperbole-drenched publishing climate. The novel is said to have taken him between 25 and 33 years to write. easily outstripping Mailer‘s paltry seven or eight for Harlor's Ghost, the other big Stateside publishing Event this year. Brodkey has been compared to Proust and Milton, his novel described as ‘nakedly original‘. ‘one of the great brave journeys ofAmerican literature‘. (Very) crudely summed up as a portrait of the artist as a I young genius. following his progress from infancy . to manhood. it possesses ‘the deep. rolling. profound thrust. painterly originality and

lightning-bolt flash ofgreat art.‘

: Brodkey himselfseems largely bemused. partly ~ tickled, by all the fuss. ‘lt‘s terribly strange to exist like this in other people’s minds,‘ he says. ‘In the last six or seven weeks I‘ve probably done three or four hundred interviews. readings. meetings. and you can categorise the opinions as favourable or unfavourable. but essentially they‘re all different, ; and I don‘t know what I‘m expected to do with them. I‘m a ‘figure‘. suddenly— but I‘m not anybody I've ever known. I‘m being invented by peOple who‘ve known me for a few days. or hours. and their view of me starts to seem completely convincing; it‘s replacing what I‘ve known of myself for 60 years. It‘s often tremendously amusing. but it is a little bit unrecognisablc.‘

It’s hard to know whether to take this apparent bewilderment at face value Brodkey does have

something of a reputation as an adroit self-publicist. Reading the book. you sometimes wonder uneasily if you‘re being taken for a long and elaborate ride (as of course you are). ‘The question is whether I am to be believed,‘ he writes at one point. ‘One must estimate whether the music ofwhat I say is essentially honest.’ And he doesn‘t indulge in any false modesty about his aim ofdoing something new and different, or his belief in its worth. ‘The book developed as a project to see if I could find a way to speak or write more truthfully than had been done before. The reason it took so long was partly a matter of aesthetics, learning as I went about the kind of interplay between experience and theory. But partly it was the case that it didn‘t take me nearly so long to write it as it took the society around me to find a little niche for me.‘

Ever since America began to develop its own literature. the search has been on for the Great American Novel. Authors want to write it. critics want to discover it, the public wants to read it the book which will articulate back to them what it all I The Runaway Soul is published by Jonathan Cape means, to live in the bizarre mixture of noble ideals i

and often brutish reality that is the US ofA. It looks as though The Runaway Soul is already being primed for the role. as were (among others) The Great Gatsby, Dos Passos‘ USA and The Naked and the Dead before it. ‘There is a hunger.‘ says Brodkey, ‘for a text, or a series of texts, which will start the process of laying down metaphors, syntactical structures, systems of language which describe what we feel, how we think. For instance, you‘ll have certain Scottish texts of merit, and in the course ofreading them you‘ll get a sense of how to make sense of what sort of musics are possible in the use of language, of how one writes about emotion in this particular kind of landscape. We don‘t have that we have movies and pop songs, things ofthat sort. The paradox is that there‘s no more America, there‘s been this

enormous cultural change and upheaval - the

last in.‘


collapse ofcommunism. the sudden world-wideness of things, it‘s a whole other scale. And if the book lasts. that‘s the world it‘s going to



Billed as the Ecology Movement’s tirst

; mascot, Fungle the Gnole is a - combination oi Hobbit and cuddly toy. He is the star oi a new, SOD-page

lantasy novel which, typical ol the 90s, manages to combine adventure with

do-gooding. The Gnole's opening ; pages discover Fungle at home in the r wilds ol the Smoky Mountains, drinking

rosehip tea with his iriends, speaking with a West Country accent (‘thankee kindly', ior example) and lamenting the encroachment oi dirty, destructive mankind. But Fungle decides to quit his whingeing and go in search oi the source oi his worries— a journey which takes him eventually to Manhattan,

where he becomes a media phenomenon and, oi course, learns how sad and degraded human lite really is.

Strangely, Aldridge did not invent Fungle tor the purposes at his message, but vice versa: he had long been interested in the ‘mlssing link' theory, which suggests a neglected evolutionary stage in Man’s genesis, and had felt that man might indeed have near-human relations somewhere in the world. It so, why not a Gnole? Fungle is actually a cross between Mole, trom Wind in the Willows, and some computer wizardry, as Aldridge explains: ‘i ted a mole skeletal system into a computer in Los Angeles and joined a quadruped system to a homosaplens system to create a blped'. A technician at the LA police station created Fungle's muscular

make-up and Aldridge designed hls tace. He was, as he says, ‘playing God’.

it is not really a children's book, although older children may enjoy The Gnole, particularly part two where the Olde Worlde language slips into an upbeat journalese which reilects his arrival in Manhattan. ‘I wanted to write a schizoid book', says Aldridge. ‘Part one almost has a classical, Alice in

Wonderland ieel, white part two throws'

the reader into contusion.’ Certainly the computer graphics, mock-magazine covers and anatomical print-outs are very impressive, although Maxine Miller's illustrations strike me as gaudily unappealing.

. Aldridge’s proposed ‘junior version’ oi The Gnole is sure to prove popularwith ' children. Perhaps Fungie may even

I usurp the Ninja Turtles.

The—bis! 22 November— 5 December 199l 81