My, this is dark, isn’t it? And may I say – creepy?
Creepy is fine. I like creepy. And yes, this is a very dark tale, although I see it principally as a black comedy, not to be taken entirely seriously.
Oh? So it’s not a whodunnit, then?
Not exactly. Most of the time I was writing it, I wasn’t sure what (if anything) had been dun, or indeed, by whom. I see it now - like Gentlemen and Players, its close relative - as a kind of murder-mystery with no detective, no apparent crime and a couple of quite unreliable narrators - Joanne Harris with a twist.
A twist? And how! Did you plan it all out beforehand?
Actually, no. I had some ideas laid out at the start, but the main reveal – the whammy – surprised me as much as anyone else. I had to go back and rewrite half the book to accommodate what I’d just found out …
The narrative structure is quite unusual. What made you want to write a novel this way?
Most of my books have multiple first-person narrators, but this is a modern take on the epistolary novel, in that all the chapters take the form of entries on a blogging site called WebJournal. Each entry specifies a mood and a soundtrack, and public entries have a Comments box at the end. Some of these entries are public, therefore open to all; others are restricted, or private. I wanted to give both my narrators the freedom to choose both what to say, when to say it and to whom; and I wanted to explore the different ways in which we present ourselves to different audiences and under different circumstances. Concealing information online is not only acceptable, but often expected; the internet is a medium in which inconvenient truths can be dispensed with; from disabilities to marital status, and where one is able to share only the things about oneself that one has actively chosen to share.
I’m a Luddite with computers. How much of this techie stuff do I need to know?
None at all, really. The jargon is minimal, and it’s all pretty self-explanatory anyway. The chemistry of the small community is essentially the same everywhere; be it a French village, an island, a school or a web community …
Tell us about your protagonist. Is he evil, or isn’t he?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Like Snyde in Gentlemen and Players, B.B. is a difficult character to pinpoint. Devious, cynical and quite self-consciously cruel, he is a profoundly flawed, one might almost say an immoral character - and yet I rather like him (what this says about me I’d rather not think). He is the product of an appalling background, a controlling mother and an imperfect education. Still living at home at forty-two, a janitor in a local hospital, he hates himself, hates his life and yet he has managed both to retain his sense of humour and to re-create himself online as the person he would rather be, instead of the born loser he really is. He inhabits a kind of fantasy world, which occasionally erupts into real life, with unpredictable consequences. And yet he is deeply vulnerable – although whether this is the “real” B.B., or whether he is simply using his vulnerability as another means to an end, is ultimately hard to say. He is, I think, the most complex character I have ever created, and perhaps the hardest to understand. Maybe this is why I like him so much, and why his voice was so easy for me …
What about your second narrator, Albertine?
Albertine, like B.B., is an ambiguous and somewhat damaged character. Marked by her troubled past, she hides behind an intricate façade, only revealing her true feelings in her private blog. Her love-hate relationship with B.B. is based on shared experience and a kind of dreadful fascination; she knows him better than anyone else, and the link that binds them together has made it impossible for her to find a meaningful, honest relationship with anyone else. Like B.B., she dreams of escaping her life, but instead finds herself drawn into an ever more tortuous game of deceit and emotional manipulation.
Identity – both real and fake – tends to be a recurrent theme of yours. How does this book explore the idea?
Many of the characters in my books have problems with their identity. In some cases, like that of Vianne and Anouk Rocher, we have someone desperately seeking to create an identity for themselves in a world that seems to deny them the chance. In others, we see someone taking on the identity of someone else – Snyde in Gentlemen and Players; LeMerle in Holy Fools; Zozie in The Lollipop Shoes. Blueeyedboy goes further, in that B.B. has chosen to create, not only an alternate identity, but a whole alternate existence, past and present, designed, not just to fool other people, but to fool himself, too. In fact, in this book, no-one is quite as they appear; identities are interchangeable, and can be assumed and discarded when necessary. It’s a reflection of the way things are going, I think; a comment on the nature of perception and reality. In this story, as in life, the toughest question to answer truthfully is always going to be: Who am I?
Synaesthesia plays an important role here. Is this something that you yourself have experienced?
I’ve always associated certain colours with tastes and smells. I’m not sure whether this makes me a synaesthete or not, but it made it easy for me to identify with the characters in the book who are. Plus I wanted to explore the idea that what one person feels when faced with a series of stimuli may sometimes differ completely from what someone else may experience in identical circumstances.
There’s a lot of music in this book. Does it reflect your personal taste?
Absolutely. B.B. and I have a fair bit in common, including a lot of our musical influences. Because one of my characters in blind, I wanted to introduce a less visual dimension than I usually do, and focus on other aspects of perception, such as smells, tastes and sounds. I found this much harder than I’d expected! To compensate for the absence of visual reference in some parts of the novel I found myself dwelling much more on the book’s soundtrack - including the voices of my main characters, and of the “little army of mice” that make up Blueeyedboy’s friends-list. I listened to a lot of music while I was writing the book – like B.B., I rarely took out my i-Pod plugs! As a result, the musical tracks are all carefully-chosen to reflect the mood of each entry as well as containing clues – some more obvious than others – which, put together, make up a series of six playlists (one for each section of the book) which serve as a mini-summary of the plot.
Whoa! This is the end? I wanna know what happened next!
Yes, I was afraid you might. As in life, the final chapter doesn’t resolve quite as cleanly as either of us might have liked. But to really appreciate a book, the reader should bring as much to the table as he means to take away. That means deciding for yourself how you think the story ends (and you may find that your opinion on this varies according to your state of mind). What I’m saying, I guess, is this: please don’t ask me what comes next. I’m usually the last to know…