There are literary monsters and literary monsters. Depends where you
put the emphasis. How you pronounce monster – with an appalled
grimace or a sly wink. A cheeky grin, even. Whichever, invariably
they’re one hell of a lot more fun than the good guys.
For a number of years I’d become increasingly outraged, not to
mention bored, by the preponderance of narrators and leading
characters we’re all meant to have searing empathy for, if not fall
hopelessly in love with. It was largely Richard and Judy’s fault, by
turning literature into a cosy knitting circle. How many times have I
heard a reader, a student, a friend say – ‘The problem with the book
is I didn’t like the main character.’ -? Not enough actually,
because, Jesus wept, you’re not always meant to like/love/lust after
the key character of said book. That really is not the point of fiction.
As I see it, the point of fiction is to stimulate, to intrigue, to
provide insight and pointers perhaps to intellectual discourse; it’s
meant to entertain too, of course. But it’s not necessarily a comfort
blanket. It’s purpose is simply not to make you feel loved-up,
chilled-out or at peace. It’s about people – from the very good to
the very bad. If anything, it’s about making you feel human. Alive.
Over the years, the decades – and we do have to go back in time a bit
– we encounter numerous disturbing (not to mention bigoted, bullying,
addictive, psychotic and murderous) narrators and leading characters,
from actually Hammett’s Sam Spade, to Jim Thompson’s brilliantly
lethal Lou Ford. We have Martin Amis’ John Self, Bret Easton Ellis’
Patrick Bateman, Tom Wolfe’s Sherman McCoy, and again and again, we
had Highsmith’s Tom Ripley.
Indeed, stalking one of the greatest novels of the 20th century – a
novel that gracefully ushered in the modern era, with all its
anxieties and neuroses – we have, and let’s all doff our caps, Jay
Gatsby. Oh, and then drooled, let’s not forget – if we could – dear
old Humbert Humbert.
Fiction ripples with rotten dreams and desires – and I’m talking
about the published stuff. It’s the damaged psyche, surely, that
explains a damaged world far more accurately than a passionate do-
gooder, or a loved-one being loved, or is it for the love of being a
loved-one? Who cares? Yadda, yadda, yadda.
And, interesting, isn’t it, that when the world, a society, is
going through a particularly brutal and public mauling – be it a
major war or depression – so up pops a nasty piece of work, albeit
wrapped in some exquisitely styled and shaped prose and albeit of a
particularly penetrating nature. Nasty comes in many hues and cries.
And there’s another thing – name a great prose stylist who spends
most of his or her time in the heads of the beautiful and the brave,
the unremittingly good and comfy? There’s yet another thing also –
humour. Horrible people are invariably funnier than nice people. Bad
situations, and I’m talking man-made, don’t simply bring out the best
– more than anything, they evoke, do they not, the eternal
contradictions of the human condition. The terrible flaws and flaying.
I was chewing over all these notions, while numerous people were
highlighting to me the fact that my own books had been getting darker
and more criminally minded, if not psychotically so, when the great
towers of commerce began to collapse (along with any sense of
security in the publishing world) and I thought, quite clearly,
though indeed possibly suicidally, sod it. I want a real monster to
narrate my next novel. I’ll make him relevant, of the time (as in as
much a product of), and, hopefully, timelessly funny – humour, to me,
being an essential ingredient to the whole unreliable process,
because darkness still needs light.
I was going to add a serious plot (criminally twisted), what style I
could manage – a thumping howl was soon reverberating on the screen –
and before I knew it the novel had practically written itself; the
first one I’d done specifically, from start to finish, in the first
person too. A voice had certainly emerged. You might not like what
happens (and who would? Or, indeed who does, given the climate?), but
I’m hoping someone – you’ll, please – at least listen, for a bit
anyway. Surely, it’s more than time for some revaluation. Fat lot of
good all the studio chatting did – the swooning and backslapping, the
fawning and boring. Studious it was not. And neither, frankly, was it
Get Me Out Of Here by Henry Sutton is published by Harvill Secker