Glad all over
Merging political satire with intense soul-searching. A. L. Kennedy‘s latest novel enters a world of violence. She speaks to Toni Davidson.
It was always going to be an unlikely pairing: Irvine Welsh reading and touring with A. l.. Kennedy. It had to be seen to be believed. Chalk and cheese doesn‘t begin to describe the differences between these two writers. yet last year‘s literary sparring tnatch served a purpose. :\.\ both writers contintte to diversify both in terms of writing and lifestyle. the sense of underlying rivalry puts paid to any ttnstrbtlc attetnpts to unify Scottish writing. All that tnattcrs is that not only is it getting better. it's getting more diverse.
So lxlm (i/m/ is Kennedy‘s fourth. probably her best and certainly her most adventuroUs book. It follows a trail of acclaim from the literary establishment on both sides of the border. In I‘M). Polygon published Kennedy‘s award-w inning collection of stories .Vt'g/i/ (;(’()III(’II'_\‘ Am! The (iurst'm/r/en 'I’rtrms. Then came the novel looking I’or The Possible Dance. which won the Somerset Maugham award. followed by a second collection of stories .Ymr 'l‘t'tul l’oit 'rc Bur/t. All were written before Kennedy reached 30 ptrtting her well inside (iranta's top twenty hitlist of British writers under the age of —1().
In earlier interviews Kennedy lras always seemed wary of generic categorisation. both in writing terms and in more‘personal ways. preferring to consider herself a person rather than a woman. So Mm (i/url takes tip this androgynous mantle with fretful gusto.
and the book is loosely based on a historical
The story combines elements of historical and political satire, mingled with intense soul-searching, allegorical mysticism and a healthy chunk of S & M sexuality
‘ she says. ‘l’sychologically it is more truthful to say that the idea of identity is blurred.‘ The novel is a complex. mutli-Iayered read with a
‘l‘m interested in the masculinity of women and the fetninity of tnen - nobody is simply one or the other
character whose writing would suggest exactly that.‘
A.L. Kennedy: fascinated by sexual identity
narrative more like a river than a stream of consciousness. Jennifer M. Wilson is a 'voice-over artiste‘. secluded and safe from the intrusions of love and hate. an anaesthetised haven that soon comes tttrnbling down with the arrival of a mysterious male ligur‘e whose identity is gradually revealed. For Jennifer. tenderness is a dangerous thing and as Kennedy says: ‘She would be afraid of tenderness becatrse it would lure her into being less defended.‘
The story combines elements of historical and political satire. mingled with intense soul-searching, allegorical mysticism and a healthy chunk ofS & M sexuality. In Jennifer. Kennedy has created a significant. strong female narrator who enters a world of submission and dominance and discovers more than she bargained for. Aware of other contemporary explorations of this theme. Kennedy says: ‘lt's certainly not voyeuristic. I was attracted to the idea of a violent woman and I felt I couldn‘t morally portray dominance other than frotn a participatory stance. but there are worse things than physical violence and a lot of the book is about the impact of being emotionally asphyxiated and where defence and attack have dual importance.‘
Kennedy's ambitions. like those of other contemporary Scottish writers. straddle a host of genres and after an aborted play for Mayfest, she is keen to look forward. ‘l‘ve written a 90-minute ﬁlm script with BFI funding which interested tne a lot because it is such a different medium. a lot of technical demands and although it is not less articulate. the articulacy relies on other people.‘ says Kennedy. ‘l'm also collaborating with a dance company in England to do a performance piece based on Havelock Ellis.‘
There are no plans for further adaptations of her novels. ‘I‘d much rather write a play.‘ she says. ‘The way I write. a lot of it is finding out and you don't find out in the same way. so much of the excitement goes for me.‘
So I Am (i/url by A. 1.. Kennedy is published by Jonathan Cape (II [9.99.
Emm— Still writing
Having received universal acclaim I for his fictional debut, Adam Thorpe 3 was at work on its successor when an unbidden narrative voice intruded. lie I let it continue, which it did for nine ; months, a gestation ending in the t delivery of a robust and thriving new novel.
As Thorpe confides, Still’s birth was difficult and protracted.‘lt’s very hard to leave your last novel,’ he says. ‘My first 350-page draft was still in the gravitational field of Ulverton and it took two years to kick free. It was only when this guy came in from goodness knows where and carried on talking that I finally left.’
While certainly not a sequel, the visitation did provide an unexpected bridge between the books. ‘Of course I
., I" I: I / Adam Thorpe: potato no more
now know who he is,’ says Thorpe. ‘He’s the missing narrator of lllverton: he directed the documentary in the ' last chapter.’
If Ricky Thornby’s voice was absent there, it is inescapable in Still. Dropping aitches and film references throughout a BOO-page monologue,
Ricky is an embittered English filmmaker displaced to the USA, viewing his personal phantoms through a glass darkly. llis reconstructed family history centring on World War I takes the form of a movie without sound or images, just words rolling across the screen at an end-of-millennium party, although it is not absolutely clear whether, in fact, anybody comes to Rick’s.
‘Ricky is the dangling man, caught between America and a particular part of Britain and he’s fairly screwed up about his own place and class,’ says
While some reviewers read Ulverton as historical pageant, Thorpe’s intentions were altogether more serious and subtle and Still also reflects his fascination with the shadows of our forgotten ancestors. ‘What interests me is the history of perspective - to what extent we comprehend things differently with each generation or with where we are.
We have the lees of history to look at, but what we lose, what time takes away from us, is the possibility of understanding how people thought and perceived.’
Which is why this vertiginously edited home movie forces the reader into direct engagement with the minutiae of events as they might have been experienced, and why for Ricky, the stills were always better than the films they advertised. Everything is left to the imagination: nothing is comfortably laid out. ‘I did want to make the reader active, because I’m sick of feeling like a couch potato whenever I read a novel these days,’ Thorpe admits. The result is a book of the film that makes Andrei Rublev look like Forrest Gump and a complex meditation on transience and memory no one could accuse of being pulp fiction. (David llarris)
Still by Adam Thorpe is published by Secker and Warburg at £15.99 on Mon 24 Apr.
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