Life swap

Having switched from Marxist activist to Zen Buddhist, Meaghan Delahunt tells Claire Sawers that her new book is all about escaping from the past

hen Meaghan l)elahunt needs a cliche-free way of describing spice markets in India or rain in Scotland. she turns to Zen Buddhism. ‘There‘s this idea of looking at the world with

beginner‘s eyes. It giy es you heightened awareness of

everything. so yoti see things fresh.' The lidinhurgh- based. Melbourne-born author sometimes meditates on her way home from St Andrews. where she lectures in creative writing at the university. ‘I)oesn‘t everyone naturally fall into a meditative state going in er the Forth Rail Bridge. looking at the fantastic view."

Eastern spirituality has played a part in l)elahuiit‘s life for over 20 years. when someone first taught her to meditate. While her award-winning debut In the Blue House about a loye affair between Leon 'l'rotsky' and Frida Kahlo tapped into a personal passion for Marxist doctrine. her second novel follows three strangers on an unplanned spiritual quest in India. But the self-confessed 'y'oung Communist revolutionary". who dropped out of Melbourne [hi to sell socialist newspapers. hung tip her red hat long ago.

The Red Book is Delahunt's exploration of the human desire to shed past lives. or iii her words. 'become snake-new". Vivid. wise. ambitious and beautiful. the book knits together the lives of Francoise. an Australian photographer visiting the Bhopal disaster: Naga. a Tibetan refugee whose family were killed in the disaster; and Arkay. an es-hardman from West Lothian who swaps his alcoholic ways for Buddhism. ‘There‘s always been this colonial fantasy. the notion of the liast as a sort of spiritual repository. a place where people go to look at what's going on in their lives in the \\'est.'

32 THE LIST 13—27 Mar 2008

.ltist as liraiicoise is determined to ayoid taking hackney ed images of the colour soaked countryside. and shoots only in black and white. l)elalitint is cai'eliil not to fall into the trap of writing a diseiicliaiitc.l gapper's tray elogue. ller characters are flawed and fascinating. btit their emotional struggles i’eiiiaiii belicuiblc. 'Wlieii you meet someone. they icycal themselyes oyei' time. I like leayiiig lots ol space; I trust that the general. intelligent reader wants to work .i little with their imagination.‘ .\i‘kay. who might wrongly raise a few hackles as a stereotypically \ ioleiit lager loyei' from Scotland. thankfully i'eyeals hiiiisell to be a comple\ but troubled soul. l)elaliuiit thinks readers will relate most easily to him. '\\'e're all addicted to something. whether we know it or iiot.‘

l)e|ahunt loyes blurring the lines between colours. sounds and senses in her richly layered prose. l.ike I'it‘ancoisc. who has synaesthcsia. she'll olten describe ‘a purple sigh'. or 'a word that tastes like caramel'. .\s far as she's concerned. her job is about creating a beautiful work of art. not a collection of .lull biographies. She hates strict linear plotlines. and prefers to daydream. reminisce and eayesdrop on passages from her characters‘ liyes oycr the past lour decades. Rather than confusing the structure. it adds layers and intrigue. '.\l| those passages where .\rkay is trying to meditate] l)elahtmt laughs. ‘and his mind is

jumping around: let's itist say I know what I‘m talking


The Red Book is published by Granta on Thu 13 Mar; see book events for readings.

.. A I 1‘. ~ 5:?

si "territories & EVENTS

* Simon Armitage Emery/ones favourite Yoiksliire bard aimless you're a fan of laii McMillan or Tony Harrison l Sill‘rl)()8(‘rl pops this .vay to take part in this event run by the Glasgow poetry association called V:tal Synz. l/lli't/tfiis‘lly' of Glasgow: Glas‘gtaic Thu lii‘ Mai: * Aye Write! We're into the last lap of the Glasgow book festival and among the folk you can still get down to see lit tickets are available) are Terry Eagleton. Laura l-lird, laVinia Greenlaw and Quintin \Jarclirie. Mitchell libra/ v. Glasgow, uriti/ Sat 75 Mai.

* Jackie Kay Enslavenient of women :8 he locus for this reading and chat With the 't'jziiriburgh—born. Manchester- basecl writer. Glasgow i't/on'it-zri's Library, Glasgow. Sun l (5 ll/lr’ir‘.

* Tony Benn lhe LabOur legend packs up his pipe to '.;()t‘ re down these parts as a one—oil extensron to Aye Write. Michell Library, Glasgow, Tue 78 Mar.

* Meaghan l)e|ahunt A publicity frenzy is upon us for the i'iew book by the Edinburgh based antipodean. See orevrew. leit. Granta; Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Sat 75 Mar; National Library of Scotland. Edinburgh, Wed 26 Mar.

* Helen Walsh The Brass author returns with a meditation on 703- 808 England. a complex and often unpleasant place. See feature. page 14. Canongale.

* Katherine Ashenburg Feeling dirty? Then expunge yourself with Clean: An Unsani'tised History of Wash/rig. See review. page 33. Profile.

* Bill Griffith For those unaware of Zippy, the 19708 absurdist pinhead. it's surely time to hob aboard with Walk a Mile in My Muu-Muu. See review. page 34. Fantagraphi'cs.