Last week, I sent off the revised page proofs for The Unquiet, the Parker novel due to be published in May. It's always interesting to receive the proofs, as it's the first time that I get to see the book as it will look to the public, i.e. typeset, and no longer simply my manuscript. At that point, a transformation occurs in the way I view it. It is not just something that I rustled up on my computer. It's a book, and I judge it in a different way. I notice elements that perhaps I did not recognise before. I become more conscious of themes running through it, and I become aware, for want of a better word, of the 'feel' of the book.
What struck me most about The Unquiet upon reading it in this form was how angry it was about a range of perceived injustices. It touches on the treatment of prisoners in Maine, for example, particularly in the Supermax facility that houses the state's highest security prisoners, but also contains some of its most disturbed inmates. In part, this was a consequence of reading some of the Portland Phoenix's excellent, prize-winning reportage on the way in which prisoners are treated there, and this in turn connected into the larger themes of the book. More than any other novel that I've written, The Unquiet seems to be influenced by current events. It's not hermetically sealed in its own universe, as perhaps The Black Angel was.
In turn, the evil in it is very real, and very human. In a way, I think it's a reaction to The Black Angel, an attempt to do something very different after that massive, sprawling book. I live in fear of repeating myself, of falling into a pattern. Inevitably, all writers do to some degree. We have our index of interests, our themes and our causes. The challenge lies in finding new ways to approach them, so that with every book they are displayed in a different light. This gets harder and harder to do as time goes on, and the number of books with our name upon it starts to build.
As I sit writing this column, I can see a file in the corner of my screen marked The Reapers. There are six chapters of the book, which focuses on the characters of Angel and Louis, done, at least in draft form. Its mood is different again: lighter, I think, in part due to the fact that it is written in the third person, and the narrative voice is a little arch and ironic.
If completed, it will be my tenth book. I am moving into double figures, which I find bewildering, for it does not seem so very long ago that I was trying to finish the first novel. Yet there is a list of books with my name on them beside the onscreen window in which I'm writing. Somebody must have written them, and it's a fair guess that it was me. Some are better than others, but each was an attempt to do something slightly different from what went before it. If there is any pattern to be perceived, then that is it.
Anyway, the time is approaching when The Unquiet will be placed before readers, and another book will be open for judgement. Advance reading copies go out this month, and the novel proper will follow in the first week of May. In the meantime, the prologue will be placed on the website, probably by the end of this week, and I will go back to working on The Reapers.
Ten books. How odd. How very, very odd.
This week John read
The Sound of Laughter by Peter Kay
and listened to
Pet Grief by The Radio Dept.
Politics by Sebastian Tellier