Carey Harrison is the author of 16 novels and more than 200 plays and scripts for film, television, radio and theatre. His numerous prizes and nominations include Sony awards, the Giles Cooper Award, the Prix Marulic, the Society of Authors’ Encore Award, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Play, the Prix Italia Silver Award and Best Play from the Berlin Academy of the Arts, as well as two nominations for the Pushcart Prize for Journalism.
My Fave Themes
My favourite themes in literature – the ones that would most incline me to open a book by an unknown author (otherwise it would probably be the author’s name, rather than the theme of the book that would attract me) would probably involve violence, I’m mildly ashamed to say. Bodies. Wartime, perhaps, and if not, then individual murders.
I’m greatly drawn to detective stories, police procedurals and the like, and have concluded that most works of fiction – from Oedipus Tyrannos onwards – are detective stories, even if in disguise. The reader’s search for closure, which accompanies all reading, or even hearing, of a story, is a kind of whodunit, a pursuit of resolution. Sometimes no one is entirely to blame (war stories are like this).
Sometimes the person hunting for the criminal is the criminal, as in Sophocles’ play. Sometimes the reader winds up thinking that the story is in fact about the reader; this has been written about my own novels, which I certainly understand as detective fiction. There is a hunt for the truth, wherever this may lead, and whatever surprises it brings.
So if all fiction is like this – and it really doesn’t matter if there are fewer rather than more bodies, in fact just one body will do, or even a missing person – what is it that fails to entice me to open a book?
Well, for instance – and yes, now we’re really getting to it – a story of drawn-out divorce in Hampstead. Not only divorce among the agonized but comfortably well-to-do will turn me off before I even reach the book’s exquisitely written and much praised pages, the very setting will have stopped me in my tracks. I could face agonized divorce in a marriage whose problems included severe poverty, separation, persecution, and other objective discouragements.
The mere fact of, for instance, adultery, is a story premise that leaves me cold (not in life, of course, where it might leave me cold or extremely interested, depending on the circumstances). Middle class domestic drama, in other words, I can happily leave to life itself, and not have to meet when I sit down to read.
No sex, please – we’re British
Nothing discourages me more in a book’s theme than a tale of sexual domination and sado-masochistic delights (yes, you know the book I’m referring to). It’s a case of too many bodies rather than too few.
I rather like the antique convention of cutting from a first embrace to the later consequences of what will follow. I don’t need a play-by-play account of sex; I don’t even want one, because I find arousal to be an odd distraction – even a Trumpian distraction – from the way in which I find myself drawn into a story.
The true location of my interest in a novel is, I’ve found, neither the heart not the head, and certainly not the groin, but rather the spirit. The heart and head are present, but what I unconsciously seek from a book is the exaltation of finding life so brilliantly summoned into words that I feel there is a part of me that can overcome even tragedy; this part, in which words themselves come to signify an understanding that transcends suffering, is neither head nor heart but spirit. With its help, even the most terrible stories are filled with hope, a hope symbolized by the author’s ability to tell the truth so vividly. The same applies to music. How can one listen to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Songs for the Death of Children, and yet feel liberated?
To this strange alchemy, of which literature is also capable, erotica comes as a brutal interruption; so, for me, it’s either uninterrupted sex, please, or no sex at all.
No one who is a fanatical murder mystery fan, as I am, will be surprised to hear that I am addicted to the travails of Michael Connelly’s fictional detective Harry Bosch, and the Los Angeles where he finds his troubled way. Anyone who likes detective stories, with an ever-interesting detective, should find their way to Connelly’s books. That’s my recommendation for today!
(And of course I also hope you might open one of my books: the first novel of The Heart Beneath has reached no.1 on the ‘thriller’ download list in Canada, the publishers have told me, to my delight. Go, Canada!!)
FIND CAREY’S WORK: Carey’s novel, Richard’s Feet, the first volume of the Heart Beneath quartet, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. The Heart Beneath has recently been re-published by The Odyssey Press and is available as four separate e-books; the quartet will shortly be made available as an omnibus edition.