By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
I couldn't have hoped for a more accurate analysis of what's going on in the book, really.
One of the things I like about the book is that you've managed to describe happiness in a very convincing way. Is that what you set out to do?
Absolutely. There's a line by a poet, I can never remember who said it, which is that happiness writes white, i.e., invisibly. But it seems to me not at all true. I've always liked scenes depicting happiness in films, for example, and I think also I was formed as a reader, and therefore as a writer, by reading Wordsworth. When people ask me my influences, I tend to say rather pretentiously Don DeLillo, Theodor Adorno, etc., forgetting people who are absolutely part of my bloodstream, and Wordsworth would be one of those. There are all these moments of shadowy exultation in Wordsworth I could quote you, and the times in my life I want to preserve or feel inspired by have nearly all been, if you like, happy moments. And I like your point about the drug thing. It's a book about the ecstatic lifestyle rather than Ecstasy the drug, but coming up on E or being in love are similar sorts of feelings. There's that lovely glow.
Have you taken a lot of Ecstasy?
I've taken less than many of my friends. By the time I got into it there was enough evidence of the negative consequences to make me much more cautious, let's say, than people who'd started on it earlier.
Another thing I like about Paris Trance is that you don't belabor the descriptions. The writing seems very unselfconscious, whereas in your first novel, The Colour of Memory, there's a slight sense of strain. What did you learn about novel writing during the intervening years?
In terms of learning things, I wouldn't just concentrate on the three novels, because I feel there's more imagination and daring in the three nonfiction books than in any number of straightforward novels. All six of the books contributed to the confidence I had in writing this. When you write your first book, you want to put everything in it. And in between my first book and Paris Trance, well, I've had my say about all sorts of stuff, so I was able to ration things and keep it down to what's essential. I also waited a long time to write this book, feeling it would be the first novel of my maturity, though the waiting came out of laziness more than anything else.
Laziness, not getting it together, not going out and getting a good job, etc., does seem to be a big theme in your work. In Paris Trance, Luke seems to be the very opposite of what a worker in the new global economy is supposed to be -- i.e., someone who's constantly updating his skills and developing new ones to fit the job market. The only skill Luke develops is memorizing the movie listings in Pariscope. How did you see him when you started writing the book?
Luke's is a good life. If you want to be a writer, you do have to settle down and do it, but it's not as if the only way to validate your life is to transcribe it, to write it. Who would have a career if they could have a life? Most of us want to have both in a way, because having some sort of career enhances your life. You could say that writing is a way of living without having a career, but still having some sort of purpose. Luke's great achievement is to be able to live totally without purpose.
Paris Trance seems to have received some fairly negative reviews in the States.
A lot of people have felt that the failure of the book is related to Luke's not being the great charismatic figure that he needs to be for the book to succeed. But the crucial thing about the book is that it's not Luke who's important, it's his relationship with Alex, it's what Alex thinks of him. And I'm always keen to draw attention to the parallels with Tender Is the Night. After Tender Is the Nightcame out, Fitzgerald wrote to Sara Murphy to explain that the character of Nicole Diver wasn't supposed to be a depiction of her, it was a depiction of the effect she had on men. So you see the parallel there. It's about what Luke means to Alex, not what Luke is in himself. I'm sorry to drag Nietzsche into this, because it sounds so pretentious, but Luke really does achieve the Nietzschean condition of amor fati, this thing where you're willing to relive the two or three happy moments in your life, to say, yeah, I'll take the whole package, I'll have the whole of my life over and over again.
Do critics in England lump you together with any other writers?
Not really, because all the books are so different. Lately I've reinvented myself as a chemical novelist, but when the jazz book came out, I was a jazz writer for a while, then briefly a military historian, then I wrote a Calvino-like novel (The Search), then the Lawrence book . . . What's been most commented on is my unusual tendency to write such different books.