My reading of The Dead from Dubliners 100 on RTE’s Book On 1 is now online. Check out the podcast here:
“Dramatic, epic and populated by tense atmosphere, The Brotherhood of the Flood is simply stunning to behold in its individuality.”
10/10 – The Last Mixed Tape
“Unique and primal, ugly and beautiful… They sound like a band at the peak of their powers.”
- Hot Press
Fresh from the critical acclaim lavished upon their second album The Brotherhood of the Flood, The Revelator Orchestra announce a special show at the Odessa Club on February 5th, 2015. Entitled The Revelator Orchestra Presents…, the evening features music, stories and performance, including sets by the evening’s curators, The Revelator Orchestra, as well as incorporating slots from friends and guests, including Kevin Nolan (whose album Frederick and the Golden Dawn was the debut album of 2014), Rob Doyle, author of Here Are The Young Men (nominated for Newcomer of the Year at the Bord Gais Energy Book Awards), and the legendary Cait O’Riordain (The Pogues).
More guests will be announced in the new year.
The Brotherhood of the Flood is reviewed by Edwin McFee in the new Hot Press,out today.
“The Brotherhood of the Flood is an ambitious, at times brilliant offering from the fertile hive mind that is The Revelator Orchestra. Sonically the album owes a debt to art rock, movie scores and the ambient and folk scenes, calling to mind acts like the Velvet Underground and Akira Yamoaka over the course of 14 tracks. Murphy’s performances are part preacher, part slam poet… while vocalist Paula Cox’s tones add some warmth to the material (particularly on the industrial sounding ‘Billy Litt’). In some senses, the record is a Frankenstein’s monster. It’s unique and primal, ugly and beautiful, with composer Acko ensuring that all limbs are kept together throughout, stitching metal (‘Iggy Ellis’), Irish trad (‘The Lost Alice’) and more… They sound like a band at the peak of their powers.”
Ladies and gentlemen, The Revelator Orchestra will be on RTE Radio 1′s Arena this evening, Monday Oct 20th, kick off at 7pm. Tune in and get an earful of a couple of tracks from The Brotherhood of the Flood, plus a bit of a natter. Looking forward to it.
Check your preconceptions: you’re about to take a trip. This is not rock ‘n’ roll and it’s not theatre and it’s not performance art or spoken word: it’s The Brotherhood of the Flood, The Revelator Orchestra’s second album, inspired by frontman Peter Murphy’s second novel Shall We Gather at the River (described by punk godfather Richard Hell as “majestic and squalid at the same time”). The Brotherhood of the Flood is an epic piece of work: fourteen tracks that tell the story of nine people who give themselves to the fictional Rua river in the year 1984.
For the uninitiated, here’s the recap: The Revelator Orchestra came together when composer/producer Acko — the one with the laptop and the Takamine and the Quaker hat — set about scoring readings from Murphy’s first novel John the Revelator back in 2009. When master shaman/showman Jerry Fish heard those recordings his brain was so fried he offered to release them on his own Mudbug Club label. So they did precisely that.
The resulting album The Sounds of John the Revelator, released in 2012, was described by Hot Press magazine as “the end of the world news narrated by the preacher from the black lagoon, scored by Aphex Twin’s evil siblings and directed by Hieronymus Bosch.” In the US, Jambands.com declared it, “a neat piece of work that somehow combines the weirdness of Poe with the coolness of the Beats over a soundtrack that might’ve been created by the Velvet Underground” while legendary Detroit arts maven Rick Manore was moved to remark: “The Revelator Orchestra is a primal, foreboding trio that baptizes the listener in a muddy Delta Blues wash, while Murphy evokes the glorious dread of Edgar Allen Poe coupled with his Joycean rhythmic cadence… I just can’t stop listening and watching.”
So far so good, but the Revelator Orchestra were fast evolving. For the second album sessions they were joined by Paula Cox, whose vocalarrangements and composing and arranging skills brought new dimensions of melody, colour and light to the process. Now a three-piece, the Revelator Orchestra began playing the new material live, honing their set into something less like a musical performance than a 3D graphic novel, or as one observer put it: “Tom Waits meets Twin Peaks.”
So buckle up: The Brotherhood of the Flood begins with a symphonic title track – a nine-minute assault worthy of a Spector production – and concludes with ‘Kill the River’, a wintry hymn layered with glorious vocal harmonies. In between, tracks like ‘The Why’ recall Julee Cruise or This Mortal Coil at their eeriest; ‘Billy Litt”s big beat throb hinges around a will he?/won’t he? murder mystery, and ‘The Lost Alice’, a revival of an old Scandinavian folk air, features Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s 300-year-old viola. Elsewhere, ‘Frank O’Reilly’s War’ might be Apocalypse Now redux, and ‘Isaac Miller’, with its thundering loops, PiL guitar and banshee vocals, underlines the point where unrequited love becomes psychosis. Then there’s ‘Iggy Ellis’, recently described by In Dublin as the group’s attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the only spoken word track ever to end with a thrash-metal segment. “Bizarre,” they declared, “but it works.”
So, The Brotherhood of the Flood defies categorisation. The Revelator Orchestra will steal anything because they listen to everything: primal rock ‘n roll, trance, folk, ambient, film scores, you name it. This is the end product of a collective thirty-year obsession with sound. Murphy (who’s been known to don black feathered wings and eyeliner and crawl across tables and howl like a werewolf during live shows), played drums with The Tulips and Grasshopper before carving out a career as a writer and journalist, profiling the likes of Lou Reed, James Ellroy, William Gibson and more. His first novel John the Revelator was published to worldwide hosannas in 2009: Shall We Gather at the River followed four years later, establishing him out as one of Ireland’s most uncompromising and original writers. As for the other two, Acko, the band’s musical backbone and evil genius, is equally skilled as a songwriter, composer, recording engineer and producer, while Miss Cox was lead singer with The Bush, the Tree, and Me, signed to Sony at the turn of the millennium, and who counted Blur, The Strokes and Jarvis Cocker among their fans. Collectively, they make for a full-on live experience.
“We are pretty intense live,” Peter admits. “We go from tragedy to slapstick to psychodrama. It takes people a few minutes to get their heads around us: ‘Is this a rock ‘n’ roll band or a weird theatre troupe or a spoken word act?’ One thing I love about Bowie and Tom Waits and Iggy is the way they draw on inspiration from outside music, from books and theatre and film. When bands only reference other bands they become inbred. The three of us are curious about everything. Acko’s watched more movies than any other person I’ve ever met. I’m a writer. Paula’s got a track record in everything from pop to choral music: she’s sung in Carnegie Hall for godsakes. It all goes into the cauldron. But we’re not happy unless we establish an emotional connection with an audience, on our records or on stage.”
The Brotherhood of the Flood is released on Devil-Elvis Records, October 23rd.
Ahead of the McCabe/McGrath/Murphy summit in Borris House on Sunday, our interview with Patrick McGrath, conducted in July 2008, soon after the publication of his novel Trauma.
Confessions of A Dangerous Mind
Since his short story collection Blood and Water and Other Tales was published in 1989, Englishman-in-New-York Patrick McGrath has proved himself the most distinguished practitioner of the modern gothic since Angela Carter.
More than that, one can read McGrath’s canon – particularly Spider, Asylum, Port Mungo and his current chiller Trauma – as a map of the murky fens of psychopathology, a dark continent populated by unreliable narrators, sociopathic painters, lone schizophrenics and ethically-challenged practitioners of the psychiatric arts. Put simply, McGrath has, over the course of his 20-year writing career, joined the dots between Poe and Freud.
“Well, there’s a way of reading Poe in which you see him as one of the direct predecessors of Freud,” the author says over coffee in a Dublin hotel on a warm July morning, “and a way of reading Freud in which he is continuing the project. You see it in Poe and Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde and the other great 19th century writers of gothic stories. They’re all, in a way, dealing with the structure of the unconscious mind: Stevenson with the double, and there’s flashes of it in Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, this fascination with obsession and guilt and the double self.”
McGrath is in Dublin to promote his latest novel Trauma, but we first met four years ago when he was on the publicity trail for Port Mungo. Over dinner, his perfect manners and avuncular disposition seemed entirely at odds with his chosen subject matter. But mental disorder is very much the McGrath family business: throughout Patrick’s childhood his father served as chief pyschiatrist at Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire.
“My father talked endlessly about insanity,” he recalls. “I was his first born, and he was proud, and a bit of a show-off too, he’d taken on a big job there. He was the man who was going to come in and drive this huge asylum into the 20th century. It was basically custodial when he went in, I think there were 500 patients and one psychiatrist and the rest of the staff attendants. This was a place that, in the mid-19th century, the Victorians in their zeal and confidence thought there was no problem – engineering, colonial, social, medical – that they couldn’t solve, had set it out really properly, thinking through the problems of mental illness.
“And that confidence and enlightenment had long since faded and decayed, so that by the 20th century an institution that was probably the best at thinking about mental health until the 1860s had really just turned into a holding tank for people that they didn’t know what to do with. These people were clearly not criminal in the sense that they were mad when they committed their crimes, but as to the treatment of them, there had been no fresh ideas. But ideas were beginning to emerge in the ’50s, new forms of medication which meant you didn’t have to wrap people in straitjackets and keep them chained in their cells 24 hours a day.
“So my father as a youngish man was at the cutting edge of new thinking in psychiatry, and he brought that energy into making it his life’s work to reform this place. And he talked about it with great passion to his children, and long before I could really understand what he was telling me, I was absorbing details of his work, but also catching his fierceness and enthusiasm for this project. I think that made a deep, deep impression, because it was the first strong message of the world I was living in, what my dad was up to behind those high walls. And that was probably the best childhood that a novelist could hope to have, and when I did start to write, it shouldn’t have surprised me that up bubbled this fascination with extreme mental disturbance.”
Except this fascination manifested itself in the realm of fiction rather than psychiatry.
“As a teenager I wanted to write,” he says, “and somehow or another you get persuaded that it’s an irresponsible romantic dream, that it’ll amount to nothing, and you get to thinking about something else. So I did schoolteaching and various other things, and none of it worked out, and in my late 20s I went back to the dream. There was nothing to lose anymore, so I declared myself a fiction writer and just got on with it.”
How long did his writing apprenticeship last?
“It was probably seven years ’til I got the first collection published, Blood And Water, I was about 37 when that came out. It’s hard to know what you know at 23 really. I knew nothing. Nothing. I didn’t know that with any confidence I could take the reader by the lapel and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve made of my life so far, read this.’ Even when I started at 29, I remember telling a friend of mine, and he said, ‘You’ve got something to say have you?’ And I remember thinking, ‘Do you have to have something to say then? I don’t think I do yet, really, but I’ll think of something!’”
A little life experience proved grist to the mill. Around the time he started to write, McGrath also began a relationship with an artist that led him to New York, a development that presaged the opening chapters of Port Mungo.
“She was Hungarian and we met in Amsterdam in 1979 and moved to New York together a couple of years later,” he recounts. “And through her I got to know what little I know about art and also had some nodding acquaintance with the New York art world of the 1980s, the New York that was very excitable, there was a lot of money around, and this era of neo-expressionism (described in Port Mungo) would have found a home. Basquiat, a number of Italian and German painters swept into New York in the early 80s with big wide canvases.”
McGrath has returned to the New York cityscape many times since then, most recently for the short story cycle Ghost Town (2005) and the current Trauma. But one of my favourite McGrath yarns is ‘The Angel’ from Blood and Water, the fable of an encounter with an immortal old world dandy, set in the rank, garbage-strewn streets of late 70s downtown New York. It’s a tale that contrasts figurative decadence with the actual urban decay of the city in summer.
“I was very happy with that story,” McGrath says. “I was living on the Bowery at one stage and that’s very much how I was experiencing New York at the time, sweating through those hot summers, couldn’t afford to get out of the city, and there were all these curious creatures, men like The Angel – you saw Quentin Crisp every day on the streets.”
McGrath’s debut novel The Grotesque (published in 1989, later adapted to film by John-Paul Davidson), was a wry and wicked updating of the classic 19th century gothic template, but 1990’s Spider (filmed a decade later by David Cronenberg, starring Ralph Fiennes) was his first major work, reflecting a burgeoning preoccupation with the horrors of psychiatric disorder, particularly schizophrenia.
“Once I realised the story was being told by a man of such severe disturbance that he could only be schizophrenic, I then knew the problem that I faced,” McGrath admits. “And I quailed. I thought, ‘My god, I’ve got to write this first person voice of a man suffering from schizophrenia who’s unmedicated. This is only my second novel, I don’t think I’m up to it. Who else has done this? Nobody’s done this. It’s crazy to take it on.’
“But being young and foolish, I sort of squared my shoulders and said, ‘Well, how do you attack this? How do you render the psychotic experience, which is by nature chaotic, incoherent, non-sequential, illogical, into the form of a novel, which is the opposite of all those things. A novel has to be coherent, you have to have some idea of what’s happening.”
How did he go about researching the character of Spider?
“I had some experience, I’d worked in a mental hospital in Canada, and I began to read some case histories and memoirs of people who suffered from schizophrenia and so on. And at that point I knew what my character looked like, I’d spotted him shambling along on a London street, he looked like Samuel Beckett, and I said, ‘That’s the man.’ It then became then very much a technical problem of keeping this whole mindset of symptomatic terrors, delusions, obsessions, fixations and so on, so I constructed a delusional system to do with gas, gasworks, bits of string and rope and webs, and slowly put together the elements in the process of having him tell his story.”
Spider is quite a harrowing read in parts. What was McGrath’s state of mind while writing the book?
“In a curious way it was less emotionally fraught than you might think. I wasn’t feeling his pain so much as I was working hard to render his confusion with as much plausibility as I could, and yet ensuring that it remained comprehensible to the reader, so that the reader wasn’t thrown back in despair at having to confront Spider’s chaos. And that really was a technical rather than an emotional ordeal.”
Still, the character so affected actor Ralph Fiennes that when he received McGrath’s own screenplay adaptation, he attached himself to the part before any of the financing deals were in place.
“I’d written a rough draft, quite a different thing from what David Cronenberg finally took on,” the writer explains. “But Ralph read it in a night and committed himself to it about five years before it was filmed. He kept in touch with Catherine Bailey, a producer, and she was as doggedly committed to it as he was. He would phone her every few months and say, ‘Listen, I’m about to go off and do Schindler’s List,’ or, ‘I’m about to go off and do The English Patient – don’t make Spider while I’m gone!’ So when we were ready to go, he was there. He knew that he was the only person who could play that role, and I think he was right.”
Cronenberg, a director who seems to relish filming apparently unfilmable books (Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Ballard’s Crash) seized on the story as soon as he read it.
“He took my script and did what he wanted with it quite shamelessly and unapologetically, and I was delighted about that,” McGrath says. “You very happily abdicate when David Cronenberg’s at work. He wasn’t translating a book to the screen; he was making his own freestanding work of art.”
A work of art that, surprisingly enough, eschewed the more obviously Cronenbergian body-horror elements for an almost theatrical atmosphere, set in the dank and musty streets of 1960s East End London.
“Isn’t that funny? When he came on board, I thought, well, of course, spiders in his insides, a foetus in a milk bottle and all kinds of grisly body imagery, body grotesquerie, body horror. And then to my surprise and delight he said, ‘This is a psychological movie, we’re going to have no special effects with Spider opening up his skin and showing us the appalling state of his innards.’”
Spider was a critical hit but did no more than arthouse business at the box office, a fate which seems to befall most screen versions of McGrath’s books. His 1996 novel Asylum – the story of the bored wife of a psychiatrist who begins an illicit affair with a psychopathic inmate, and the book many consider his finest – was also made into a 2005 film directed by David Mackenzie, starring Natasha Richardson. No less than Stephen King wrote an unfilmed version of the screenplay, the only unoriginal adaptation he’s ever done. Has McGrath met the maestro?
“I haven’t. I called him on the phone. He did me a great favour once when I was trying to get a Green Card and I was having a bit of difficulty because I was busted for grass years ago in Canada. I had this immigration lawyer and she said, ‘Do you know anyone famous in the literary world?’ And I said, ‘I’ve heard that Stephen King likes my stuff.’ So she said, ‘Write to him.’ So I wrote a letter to Stephen King explaining my dilemma, and back came the most wonderful glowing letter recommending that the immigration service welcome me into America because I’d be an asset, it was the most generous thing.
“So my lawyer was presenting this folder of references and transcripts and god knows what, and she put this right up at the front, before you even opened the flap inside the file, there was the letter. And she said, ‘They won’t know anyone else, but they’ll all know who Stephen King is. That’ll get you a Green Card.’ And I believe that’s what did. It says a lot about America and about Stephen King.”
McGrath’s fascination with America was a major influence on his 2001 novel Martha Peake – A Novel Of The Revolution, an ambitious work that migrated from Cornwall to colonial Massachusetts. But 2004’s Port Mungo was a return to more modernist territory: the tale of an artist, Jack Rathbone, who drags his family from New York to the tropics, where he becomes obsessed with ‘malarial’ paintings while his wife and daughter all but run wild.
In that book’s acknowledgments, McGrath wrote: “No man is an island apparently, but by the middle if a book most writers get to feeling distinctly peninsular. In this we are deluded. We go into the room alone, and we stay in the room alone, but what happens there to a great extent depends on the web of support we enjoy outside the room.”
“I think as you get older you try and suppress the ghoulish aspects of your behaviour and remember that there are other people who live with you in this house,” McGrath explains, “and if you sustain this anti-social, obsessive, self-absorbed state because you’re creating something, then you become a nightmare to live with. And I think I, and a lot of the other writers I know, manage in the end not to be a complete nightmare when they emerge, they learn how to cut off the work outside the room. But Jack is somebody who never troubled to learn that, and allowed that self-absorption to smoulder into a narcissism that became pathological and produced the most terrible consequences for those about him, most particularly his daughter.
“I think it’s often the case that an artist that isn’t really cutting it will behave like the mad genius, possibly because the frustration and failure fuel the impulse to behave irresponsibly, to assume the right of the artist and trample roughshod over the people around them. Jack behaves as though he’s had the dispensation that genius brings. Society says we give you dispensation to behave beyond normal moral standards, but what you have to do to earn that is produce some good work. If you assume the dispensation and don’t produce the work, you’ve not fulfilled your part of the agreement. And it’s by no means the case that the great artist is necessarily going to behave with cruelty to those around them.”
And so we segue from narcissistic artists to physicians incapable of healing themselves, never mind their patients. Trauma, McGrath’s seventh and current novel, is narrated by Charles Weir, a damaged and dissociative psychiatrist who bungles the treatment of his brother-in-law Danny, a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thematically, the new book investigates the disruptive potential of suppressed memories, and much like its predecessor, suggests that one’s own family might be more terrifying than any supernatural agency. It also explores the charged dynamic between doctor and patient. The spark for the story, McGrath says, was the realisation that many shrinks have a history of dysfunction in their own families.
“What really got the book going was meeting a psychiatrist who talked in exactly these terms,” he says. “Most of the psychiatrists he knew had gone into that line of work because they’d felt they’d failed their mothers. I didn’t trust that idea at first, and I checked it out with another shrink, and he said, ‘Oh yes, it’s the case.’ And what happens when the psychiatrist, who is presumed to have knowledge and sympathy and objectivity and wisdom, doesn’t? Incompetent would be the word for Charlie Weir. But in the past I did a psychiatrist in Asylum, whose agenda was a lot less benign than mere incompetence, and his own needs were manipulative and destructive.”
Trauma often seems to depict the psyche as a sort of haunted house containing malign objects – repressed memories – that need to be hauled up from the dank basement of the subconscious and aired on the front lawn before they can be reintegrated into the structure of the household.
“Well, that would be at the very heart of the treatment of trauma,” McGrath points out, “to get that memory out from under where it’s festering, as you say, out onto the table, where the next step is to try and assimilate it into the operating consciousness of the patient.”
Except one of the impediments to this process is that the damaged are hardwired to seek out and replicate situations they’ve experienced during childhood, no matter how unhealthy.
“Yes. A book I’m reading at the moment is by a German psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, The Drama Of the Gifted Child, and she’s very good on exactly this. And the image that she comes up with is that of a mirror; the infant is looking for a mirror of itself in the mother’s eyes, and in most cases finds it, the mother has as much tenderness and love for the child as the child requires, and so the child becomes validated and confident as a result. But if it’s not there, she says, then the child will spend the rest of his or her life looking for that mooring, and that will be a difficult quest, because nobody can provide what the mother provides in those early years.”
Did she posit a solution?
“Psychoanalysis basically. Bringing the person back to that initial experience of loss. Trauma, even. And allowing the patient to become clear that that is why they do what they do, and then, presumably armed with that insight, can stop going round in circles and repeating the same fruitless patterns.”
If the shrink occupies a position in secular society analogous to that of the priest in religious communities, one is naturally led to speculate as to what happens when that position of trust and authority is betrayed.
“It’s quite shattering for those who’ve invested so much in that authority,” McGrath affirms. “And it’s interesting that the Americans I think are going through a similar thing now, in the sense that they’ve all awoken to the fact that the presidency has failed them, and what do they do now, apart from replace the president? There’ve been calls for a sort of Truth & Reconciliation committee to be set up once Bush is out of office, as was the case in South Africa and Czechoslovakia. As they moved to a more open regime it was necessary to examine what had gone wrong and who was responsible for it.
“Whether this will be taken up, I doubt it, Obama has made no suggestion that he’s interested in such a thing, but nevertheless it does speak to the extent to which the people were failed by an authority. They do want to trust the president, and it’s traumatic to find that that trust is misplaced and betrayed.”
And chief among the betrayed are the war veterans, characters like Danny in Trauma, or troops dumped in Iraq for up to three tours of duty with inadequate funding or training. Interesting that Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure and Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stared At Goats both portrayed Abu Ghraib in terms not far removed from the stuff of McGrath’s novels – a cursed space.
“Like one of Ballard’s psychotropic buildings,” McGrath observes. “It puts a chill up my back when you say that. And that would make sense of those calls that one has heard over the past few years about Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo – they should just pull them down, raze them to the ground, clear off all of the bad mouldering evil that is still lingering in those halls.”
In Trauma, Danny is haunted not just by the atrocities he’s witnessed, but those he’s committed. He feels his participation in such terrible acts have effectively banished him from humanity.
“There was one key book that I read about the Vietnam Vets and the therapy that they got when they came back,” McGrath says, “a book called Home From The War by Robert Jay Lifton, and I believe I picked up that fact in there, that soldiers who had become so dehumanised by the horror of what they’d experienced in war, there was no transgression they didn’t commit.
“We know that they would go berserk in battle and violate the bodies of their enemies, and there is a hint in Robert Jay Lifton’s book that they went further than that, that it went not just to destroying the body, but that primal and most primitive impulse, which is to ingest your enemy, so as to take on his strength or whatever. And it’s so deep in our hardwiring that it just takes layers and layers of inhibition and civilisation to be torn away to get to that primal urge to devour the enemy, and that had in fact happened.
“So it wasn’t merely passive horror, or a horrified reaction to stuff that was happening in front of them, it was as much what they had been driven to do, and then to come away from the heat of battle to sit wherever and reflect on what they’d participated in, and that’s where the trauma will come from, where the overwhelming suicidal guilt will come from: ‘I did that to innocent women and children, the bodies of the dead.’ So the soldier will be implicated in the horror, not merely witness to the horror. And that’s something that hadn’t occurred to me.”
Hence the high statistics of veterans numbing themselves with hard drugs or alcohol.
“Indeed. It’s one thing for them to come back and say, ‘That war should never have been fought’, or ‘I should never have been sent out to fight it’, but when you compound that with, ‘I contributed to the horror out there, I am guilty’, then it’s a much more complicated psychological problem, because the guy can’t simply displace the responsibility onto the US government, or bad foreign policy, or Richard Nixon. It’s coming right back at him.
“That does make it much more believable that such a high proportion of these men should be suicidal and medicating themselves with street drugs and booze and whatever else. Interestingly, what emerges in Home From The War is it was the vets who went looking for the shrink, not vice versa. The VA offered them nothing. I think something a little more is being offered to the Iraq vets, but I don’t think it’s much. So they’re going back to little towns in Appalachia, where they’re sitting brooding, there’s often some disastrous fallout of men turning their guns on their families and then themselves.”
Given that he’s essentially a supporting character, Danny is the most most resonant presence in Trauma. One suspects the act of researching this character has opened up fertile new fictional terrain for McGrath.
“I’m trying at the moment to write a book set in America now, about the collapse of authority and the disillusion and dismay and apathy and despair of a people who have lost faith and are living in an atmosphere of betrayal and lies,” he says. “It feels, as we get to the end of the Bush period, that there’s a possibility of emerging from shadows, a sort of Orwellian place where what is coming out of the White House is never credible.
“As I say, counteracting that is the people’s real desire to trust their president, to look to their president as a sort of father figure, and it’s very hard to let go of that. It’s easier for me who came from elsewhere, or for New Yorkers who are cynical and don’t have that simple faith that has been eroded severely. It would be interesting to return to this theme of the damage that’s done as it manifests. There’s a line in the book that seemed to sum it up, and it wasn’t entirely my own thought, but it was phrased something like, ‘The irony was that serving your country rendered you unfit to be its citizen.’ So that’s an idea that I’d quite like to come back to and develop some more. This is the time; it’s happening again.”