“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “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 …


Anonymous said...

Hi Declan,

I am on a creaking, stinking Irish merchant vessel heading towards the Bay of Biscay and neutral Lisbon (it's 1940), and like you becalmed all of a sudden - when the journey had been going so well. One immediate concern is the wandering Free Polish fighters that are notoriously less impressed by Irish neutrality than the RAF, but maybe holding up a copy of something by Conrad would help there? However, becalmed as I am I could take great comfort in both 'Heart of Darkness' and 'The Wind in the Willows' - rarely talked about together till now, but in a competition for two books to take to a desert island that represented all of English fiction (and had to have a journey on a river)... you definitely have the winning entry (even without the river!). You couldn't do better!

Michael Russell

Declan Burke said...

Hi Michael -

Becalmed, aground, adrift ... maybe it's Typhoon we should be reading?

I'm planning to read The Wind in the Willows again over Christmas, because my little girl has never heard the story. At least, that will be the excuse ...

Cheers, Dec

dave burke said...

It feels so nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on regarding Really thankful to you for starting this