Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Rage against the machines
NZ Herald - Saturday Jan 28, 2012 - Stephen Jewell
Left - Anthony McCarten.
McCarten didn't intend to write a follow-up to his novelDeath of a
Superherowhen he embarked upon his latest work,In the Absence of Heroes. But after coming up with the premise for a story involving a triangle
of characters, it dawned on the Gloucestershire-based New Zealander that he had
already created three ideal protagonists in the shape of Jim and Renata Delpe
and their elder son, Jeffrey. Set some time after the death of the Delpes'
youngest son, Donald,In the Absence of Heroesfinds the trio retreating into their own
separate computer-generated fantasy worlds as they struggle to come to terms
with his premature passing.
"I originally came up with an
entirely independent idea that ostensibly required a father, a wife and a
son," recalls McCarten, 51. "Then I realised I had already invented
them in the last book so I thought I would try and see if I could marry the two
together and it was a natural fit. It added so much more because I could
explore aspects not covered in the first novel, which was pretty preoccupied
with its central character.
"I knew they were a family that wasn't connecting with each other
as they had been cast into a state of grief and isolation from each other in
the aftermath of Donald's death. It was the perfect setting to justify this
disconnect between all the characters."
Death of a Superherosaw terminally ill Donald delving into
the testosterone-fuelled world of comic books. This time, the internet and
online role-playing games initially provide 18-year-old Jeff and his father,
Jim, with some solace inIn the Absence of Heroes.
"One of the pleasures of writing both books was being able to play
with different ways to tell a story," says McCarten. "I stumbled upon
this journey withSuperhero, where I could
almost jump tracks in the narrative across to another level of reality but
still pursue it as a story with allegorical meanings. The reader would impute
what I was trying to get at and then jump back to the main story. That
binarism, which I've been interested in playing with as a narrative device, is
hopefully even more fitting in this book, which is about computers and what
they're doing to our own lives."
According to McCarten, the internet has had a detrimental impact on our
lives. "I'm not a computer game person but I'm really interested in the
hold it has on popular culture," he says. "If you go into my local
Blockbuster, you used to be faced with a wall of new movie releases but it's
now almost entirely given over to computer games while movies have been
ghettoised to the back corner."
As the father of two teenage sons, McCarten worries about the widening
gap between the generations. "I'm very aware of the changing face of
family and the shift in parental roles that's going on. In the old days, your
kids would go and play in the playground, but now they're disappearing whenever
they've got an internet connection into games of mass murder.
"What's the long-term significance of this going to be? Kids have
always played with guns, but the veracity of these games and the fact you
become so immersed in them is disturbing, and the simulation of killing and
being killed is incredibly realistic."
But the net is all around us, as McCarten demonstrates during our
meeting at a Notting Hill brasserie by pulling out his iPhone to check his
emails. "It's like a tidal wave," he laughs. "It's taken out
every village and we're all drowning in it. It's now considered socially
aggressive if you're not connected; that there must be something wrong with you
if you don't have a smartphone, an email address or a Facebook account. We're
all being dragged under by this tsunami."