Extract 3 from ‘The Great English Novel’

Though no-one in his circle at the pub had actually accused him of it, he knew what they thought. He was just filling in time like the rest of them. They claimed to be musicians or painters or environmental activists – it was that sort of pub – but all they ever did was sit around, drinking and smoking. Oh, and talking – they did plenty of that. They had kept him amused for a time, in a Falstaff-and-Prince Hal kind of way.

The Great English Novel… It had become a legendary work-in-progress, after the fashion of Joyce’s final work. To his acquaintances, it was merely mythical. He could sense the growing expectation as one year merged into another and still it had not arrived. Speculation was all that his readership had to go on – he was hopelessly blocked, it was nearing completion, the project had been abandoned… In his rare moments of self-candour, he suspected that those who’d expressed an interest in the Great English Novel were faking it too.

He hardly saw his friends from university these days. Most of those Great Writers had thrown in the towel within months of graduating. Instead they had well paid jobs in advertising or banking, wives and children, big houses and nice cars… A couple of them had stalled for a year on creative writing courses, but the results had been the same. One or two claimed to write in their spare time. For them, it had become another hobby, like DIY or golf. In other words, they were lightweights. The last time that he’d met up with a few of them for a drink, they’d rounded on him, told him that he needed to grow up and move on, or ‘get a life’ as they’d put it. But this was his life, the writer’s life. They assumed that he was the same as them, if you subtracted the promising career, the family and all the other possessions. Well, they were wrong. He didn’t need those things. And he would show them yet. He was going to land his knockout punch, the Great English Novel.

He still discussed his writing in the pub. Every so often someone in the circle would ask him about it, and he’d make a lame defence of his craft. Well, you had to pass the time somehow.

“How’s that book of yours coming on?”

“Oh, well, you know…”

“So what’s it about, then?”

“Well, that’s a bit tricky to sum up in a few words.  It’s kind of wide-ranging and multi-layered at the same time, you know, and it’s like, metafictional, with plenty of intertextuality thrown in too.”

“Oh, right, yeah… that sounds interesting.  I’d like to have a look at it sometime.”

“Oh, yeah, sure – I’d appreciate that.  Perhaps when there’s a little more substance…”

They’d box him into a corner with their faux concern.  He knew how to hit back, though.

“And how’s the painting going?”

No, he couldn’t talk about it with any conviction – he could tell that they weren’t really interested. And he knew that there were those among them who doubted its very existence. Well, perhaps they had a point in a way…

© PSR 2002

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