2nd June 2011 - Kevin MacNeil
Today we're delighted to welcome novelist Kevin MacNeil as a guest blogger for Foyles. Kevin's latest novel, A Method Actor's Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, has just been published in paperback by Polygon.
Described as "brilliant, touching, funny and clever" and "from first to last, an enticing read", the novel introduces troubled young actor Robert Lewis who wakes from a bike crash in a fog-bound Edinburgh to find that life has become dark and strange. Always the deceitful egoist, he finds himself losing control of his love life, his starring role in a new adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde, and, quite possibly, his mind. It's a sinister and maniacal thriller that tackles duality, both individual and cultural, and is also a heartfelt tale about the search for belonging and the nature of love and desire.
Kevin has also written another novel, The Stornoway Way (2005), and a collection of poetry, Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides (2001).
To see video footage of Kevin reading from his new novel at the recent Dublin Writer's Festival, click here.
Life and literature are full of great partnerships.
I wrote A Method Actor's Guide to Jekyll and Hyde as a stand-alone novel, but one which includes a bonus level of allusion for anyone familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Everyone knows its premise, which has become proverbial, and many have seen one of the film versions (it's the third most filmed story of all time). But I hope that my novel will encourage readers to seek out Stevenson's book and read it - after mine, or perhaps even in tandem with it.
Once you've read those, here are some of my other favourite book pairings.
The Rider by Tim Krabbe and The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton
Writing being a notoriously unhealthy profession, I like to balance my sedentary looking-wistful-with-a-netbook lifestyle for something more adrenalising - cycling. Bikes feature in literature surprisingly infrequently, but The Rider is the greatest evocation in all literary fiction of the pain, the psychological challenges, the fraternity, the magic and the suffering of the competitive peloton. (Krabbe also wrote The Vanishing, made into a successful film in his native Holland and a less well-received remake in Hollywood.) The Rider is rich in convincing detail and is a must-read for active and armchair cyclists alike.
Matt Seaton's non-fiction work The Escape Artist is a wise and poignant and pacy meditation on obsession and loss. A keen cyclist, Seaton describes what cycling means to him and how it figures in a life increasingly eclipsed by responsibility; he and his wife, the journalist Ruth Picardie, have twins, then Picardie discovers she has cancer. This is a rewarding read, not at all as downbeat as it sounds. Like all great books based around sport, The Escape Artist is also about life.
Sample quotation from The Rider: "He looked back to see whether his plan had worked and slammed head-on into an oncoming car."
Sample quotation from The Escape Artist: I love Seaton's description of the bike as "a perfect partner which will dance with you when you stand on the pedals." Fellow cyclists will understand!
Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati and Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg, animated by Eric Drooker
Dino Buzzati (1906-72) was a brilliant Italian journalist, novelist and artist. This wild, Bohemian reworking of the Orpheus myth is experienced rather than read; it is like plunging your eyes and mind into a hallucination alive with lust, death, music and love. The book also includes an explanation of the afterlife. A stunning book - beautiful, mesmerising, colourful and memorable. [Unfortunately Poem Strip is currently out of print in the UK.]
Howl, love it or loathe it, is undergoing a revival at the moment thanks in part to the recent movie of the same name. It is odd to think that such an artistically jarring yet hardly obscene poem could have been the subject of a long court trial. Great publicity for the book, of course, but how does the poem stand up over half a century later?
Judge for yourself in this inventively illustrated visualisation of the poem. I think the text and images marry well together, as they do in Buzzati's book.
Sample quotation from Poem Strip: "The far-off voice calling out over the rooftops/the howling dogs/in the vast countryside beneath the glow of the moon/ mean nothing nor does the white deserted road that fades/beyond the hill at sunset/because on the other side there is no unknown/no darkness, no end, no final separation, no farewell."
Sample quotation from Howl: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,/angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night..."
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman by Tadeusz Borowksi and The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greaves
Not an immediately obvious pairing, perhaps.
Borowski survived Auschwitz and Dachau...and killed himself in 1951. This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentleman is the single most depressing book I have ever read. And one of the most moving and powerful. Read this horrific, astounding masterpiece and you will never be the same again.
For your own health, you should only read This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen if you have a humorous 'antidote' book to hand. The Naked Jape is an intelligent, well-researched investigation into the place jokes and humour have in our lives, attempting to answer questions such as Is Man the only animal that laughs? Why are clowns so scary? Plus, it's packed with jokes (over 400!) It made me laugh out loud in public.
Sample quotation from This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman: "Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death."
Sample quotation from The Naked Jape: Bob Monkhouse's "They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. They're not laughing now."
New Collected Poems by Tomas Transtromer and Where We Are by Lucien Stryk
Tomas Transtromer is one of my favourite contemporary poets. I think if he weren't Swedish he would have already been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Those lovely Swedes are like my people, the Gaidheals, far too self-deprecating - even when being self-deprecating on someone else's behalf. Transtromer's enlightening combination of near-mystical insight and hard mundane clarity is perfectly exhilarating.
In, I think, 1998, I did my first reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. A thrill in itself, of course - but I was especially excited to be sharing a stage with Lucien Stryk, the great American poet. His writing, dense and lucid and resonant, deserves greater acknowledgement than he currently receives for his contribution to American and European poetry.
Sample quotation from New Collected Poems: From November: "When the hangman's bored he turns dangerous."
Sample quotation from Where We Are, from 'Sniper': "An inch to the left/and I'd be twenty years/of dust by now."
Perhaps the most artistically satisfying partnership of all is that which exists between writer and reader. As Borges said, "I sometimes think that good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves.'
© Kevin MacNeil 2011
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