Saturday, 16 November 2013

Life is Messy by Dan Holloway

I don't do drumrolling announcements, but after a long hiatus, my literary novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is available for Kindle again. You will have sensed the soul-searching of the past few months. I am working my way through my books, editing and formatting, and I am very happy to be bringing them back into the world. And am comfortable with them being on Amazon. I may write about this at some stage. I may not.
 songswhitebackground-front 
(the UK link is here, and the US link is here. The book is available in all other places as well. It's $2.99 or equivalent) 

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a blog run by the book's protagonist, Sandrine, a teenager growing up in Hungary in the years after the  fall of the Berlin Wall. She lives with her father and cat in a huge house on the vineyard that's been in the family for hundreds of years, and dreams of one day escaping, first to the metropolis of Budapest to be an artist, and then to the west, to find the English mother who walked out on her shortly after she was born. In the meanwhile her blog is her window on the world. Through it she gets involved in the wider landscapes of music and politics, forming a friendship with a singer called Michael, who runs a charity website and a band. When Michael asks her to support the band at a concert to celebrate Romania's accession to the EU, she is caught up in teh middle of a nationalist riot and a single act of violence begins to unravel her life.

As the book opens, Sandrine defines her life in terms of dichotomies. Past/future, East/West, the country and the city, her family and her lover (she has fallen in love, from afar, with Claire, who once visited the vineyard - it is Claire's death that starts Sandrine's disintegration, and the book's central picaresque, as she searches for information about her), her reality and her dream. As the book takes its course, and with the twin guides of her endlessly patient new girlfriend Yang and Michael's enigmatic and estranged father Peter, Sandrine's attempts to define herself by a series of clear binary choices begin to break down.

I originally brought the book out in 2009, and had the privilege of speaking about it, and the questions of identity it raises, at events to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I hope to do so again next year, though the 25th anniversary of the wall's collapse may be eclipsed by an even more numinous European anniversary. I ended up giving three papers, and you can find them in the appendices to the paperback edition (available for £7.98 here).

Since then, it's something I've come to think about even more, and the question of how we define ourselves, where our identity "is" and in what it consists, has come to dominate my work. I have never liked the idea of hierarchies, and binaries lend themselves insidiously well to the creation of hierarchies - "I choose this over that" turns to "I prefer this over that" turns to "I dismiss that as being inferior." And binaries can never do justice to the simple messiness of life. "I" am not a neatly lined-up set of tick box options and never can be. What I tick in one box radically alters all the other boxes. More than that, what you tick in one box might alter all of my boxes.

I wrote Songs before intersectionality had become such a widespread hot button topic, but ultimately this is a book about intersectionality. Sandrine is female. And she's gay. But she's also white and her lover is Chinese. Each of these matters but none of them is a fixed point. "Sandrine" is a fluid thing, a set of messy sensual experiences and perceptions of the world that vary in perspective from minute to minute, place to place, and company to company. Understanding these things is essential to understanding Sandrine, but for Sandrine herself the most important realisation of all is that "understanding" has to take a back seat to "living."

6 comments:

JO said...

I read it first time round - and it was wonderful - so good luck with this.

Dan Holloway said...

Thank you!

Lee said...

Now that you've told us all exactly what the novel means, I'm must admit that I'm not - or no longer - inclined to read it.

Why? Am I just being my usual contrary self?

Maybe. Or maybe the book itself should do all the heavy lifting.

Dan Holloway said...

:) I think one of the reasons I wrote the book was so that I could talk about these things

Lydia Bennet said...

Good luck with it Dan I look forward to reading it. Interested you are happy with the Mighty River once more after aspell away from it in pdf land!

Dan Holloway said...

The pdfs are still there on my website :)