Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Horror, The Horror

I’ve been working away on a new book for the last couple of months, which is always great fun, although in the last few weeks it seems to have run into sand. Not unusual, if my previous experience is anything to go by, and probably not the last time this particular book will find itself in trouble. Anyway, I was reading HEART OF DARKNESS again last week, when this passage, from roughly the halfway point, leapt out at me. Marlow’s steamboat is falling apart for the want of rivets, but he’s fond of it all the same:
“It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to my influential friend, the battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clambered on board. She rang under my feet like an empty Huntley & Palmers biscuit-tin kicked along a gutter; she was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit – to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work, – no man does – but I like what is in the work, – the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”
  It’s hard to believe that the ‘battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot’ steamboat, at least during this passage, doesn’t represent ‘the work’ of writing the book itself, the opportunity to ‘find out what I could do’. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it, given that I’m up the proverbial creek myself without so much as a paddle or a handful of rivets. Maybe that’s also why this re-read of HEART OF DARKNESS put me in mind of MOBY-DICK, and that ‘the horror, the horror’ is that of the blank page.
  Tune in next week, when I read THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and reconfigure ‘messing about in boats’ as a cry for help from an author becalmed in the backwater of a first draft, pulled hither and yon by the gentle ripples and eddies of pitiless fate, etc …