The Wall game

Monday again, and time to think about Alan Wall, as he has a ‘how to’ book on writing out. This is very exciting, because he’s a magnificent writer. First book of his I read was ‘China’, which was hugely enjoyable (in part because it’s very well written, in part because it’s mostly set around five minutes walk from where I live), but it was ‘The School of Night’ that really blew me away.

‘The School of Night’ is about Sean Tallow, a rather ineffectual intellectual who combines his Shakespeare obsession (who really wrote the plays?) with a job at the BBC. His life is intertwined with that of his school friend Daniel Pagett, who has become a Richard Branson-like multi-millionaire.

There’s a lot going on in the book; but what really leapt out at me is Wall’s deep, subtle consideration of the innate criminality of the self. Building on Nietzsche, Wall riffs on the way that our needs and desires sooner or later clash with those of the people around us.

When that happens, we have a choice; we either betray ourselves by acceding to the needs of others, or we criminalise ourselves by ignoring or actively working against those needs. To fulfil ourselves, we need to deny those around us.

This – in essence – is the problem that Sean has; the book charts his different ways of engaging with it, contrasting his behaviour with that of the more directly criminal Daniel. And it does so in a memorably focussed way. There’s not a wasted sentence in it – in fact, I started re-reading it as soon as I’d finished it, all the better to appreciate the tautness and precision of Wall’s craft.

So it’s very exciting to see that his guide to writing is coming out. Oh, and he’s also very engaged with Michael Moorcock; as I understand it, he looks critically at Moorcock’s marvellous ‘Between the Wars’ novel sequence in the book. I can’t wait to see what he’s got to say about them; and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to say about writing in general.

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