The Novel In Question
- An essay/advert for
DO NOT LAUGH AT THE NATIVES
Writing a novel has its hazards, but, without risk, where are you? I have only ever written one novel in my life and I did it partly to see if I could write one. I am sure it has many faults, which it wouldn’t have had if I had written others before it. For example, in Do Not Laugh At The Natives, (The Novel In Question.) wee Mike and the huge female body-builder, Djowja, have just spent their first night together without exchanging names. (It happens!) In the morning however, Mike is introduced to another character in the novel, Tom, by his first name, which, at that point in the narrative, Djowja could not have known. An oversight in the construction of the novel on my part which a more experienced novelist would no doubt have avoided. On the plus side, it has to be said, that this is probably due to the speed at which I wrote the first draft of the novel. (2 or 3 weeks if I recall.) It was written full-pelt, as it were, and has a sense of pace, which, if I had been more careful, it may not have had. So in a way, these things come down to swings and roundabouts; what you gain on one side, you lose on the other. Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu is a far more accomplished novel than his earlier Jean Santeuil, but it lacks the freshness of the earlier work. Or to use another example, a novelist may want to be fair to all sides in a novel, but that often results in a work lacking in passion.
So many reviewers who employ well-defined critical benchmarks in their reviews, overlook this 'swings and roundabout' possibility. They seem to have a hierarchy of criteria which allows them to tag the work under review and place it in one of their pre-existing categories - or genres - which suggests that they are not alive to difference, but only to the sameness implicit in adhering to certain models of writing to the exclusion of other models of writing. That’s possible, of course, but sometimes allowances must be made for difference. I know, for example, that Do Not Laugh At The Natives deals with themes which I have never encountered before in novels. Perhaps it shouldn’t. Perhaps that makes it a bad novel – badly written, badly constructed – because it attempts things which shouldn’t be attempted in fiction. I am no expert on what goes or what does not go in a novel. I simply went ahead and wrote it. It is true that I wanted to crowd a lot of things into the novel and I’m not sure even today whether that was a good or bad policy, but I think it’s the way creativity often works. It doesn’t come from a knack which allows you to repeat your performance over and over again, but rather from the fact that it was written because it had to be written when it was written and can’t be written again because there is no longer the need to write it. That is why creativity itself is more about difference than sameness, less about what you can do than what you must do, because the work itself wants to be born. So you abandon yourself to the process and don’t really heed at the time of writing what it might look like in the more ‘critical’ eye of another.
Do Not Laugh At The Natives is about a 17 year old boy’s decision to put two fingers up to the world of work as he has experienced it up to that point in his life and become a vagabond. He is not a physically robust boy – far from it – but he is extremely good-looking and is also probably gay without being willing to embrace what that means. He is picked up by a huge female body-builder and begins an affair with her. He is 5’ 3” tall and a real weakling to boot, while she is 6’ 3” tall with ‘muscles to die for’. And so it turns out that they are ‘made for each other’ – especially in the light of the fact that he is in denial about his true sexuality, and finds her a very adequate substitute for what he is unconsciously looking for. So the novel is what you might call a “gay coming of age novel”. (Amazon – or is it Kindle? – loves such labels!)
The novel has also been described – by Ian MacFadyen, a notable William Burroughs scholar – as picaresque, perhaps because it follows the sexual adventures of the amoral, but likeable Mike, not only with Djowja, but also during his time as a rent-boy after he leaves her. In the meantime, he meets an assortment of characters, including the Marxist, Jack, the anarchist-poet, Hubert, Dougie his professional partner as a rent-boy – with whom he falls in love – and numerous lesser characters such as Abdul, Paul, Beata, Tina, Tom, Larry and Simon. The most important of these characters for Mike is probably Hubert, the anarchist, with whom he forms a largely platonic friendship. He learns a great deal from Hubert, who one could describe as his mentor in life.
There is a certain amount of – anti-New Labour – politics in the novel (It was written in 2007), a great deal of philosophy thrown in for good measure, sexual politics – somewhat inverted at times – film-criticism (If…., My Own Private Idaho, Das Boot) and much else besides. Some might say that all this is unnecessary to the novel qua novel, but I am of the belief that novels are not exactly abstract exercises in form and often need such themes to connect them to the world we inhabit. On the other hand, one must also not forget that they belong to the genre of fiction and not everything in them needs to be realistic or reproduce absolute verisimilitude, although I suspect, the events related should still seem to be in the realm of possibility however remote.
On the Blog-Page of Ol' Chanty, I have published an excerpt of about half a chapter, to whet readers' appetites and hopefully persuade them to fork out the price of £1. 99.
“Picaresque and poignant, Do Not Laugh At The Natives is a unique trip for the jaded traveller/reader . . .” – Ian MacFadyen, London.
“A tale, at once philosophical and adventurous, of an amazing voyage through the turmoils of a quirky youth to the borderlands of self-discovery. Riveting, thought-provoking and sexually arousing.” – Eddie Woods, Amsterdam.
Below is the Amazon link for anyone with £1. 99 to spare who would like to read it.