Earlier this week I shared my thoughts on What We Didn’t Say, if you missed it you can find it here, but basically I loved it. So I’m delighted to welcome the author Rory Dunlop to the blog today to share the inspiration behind his debut novel.
The Inspiration Behind What We Didn’t Say
I’ve always loved unreliable narrator novels – Lolita; The Sea, The Sea; The Black Prince etc. It can be funny and satisfying, as a reader, to see things the narrator can’t. The first germ of an idea for my novel was to have a therapist as the narrator, writing unreliably about the unreliable things he was told by his patients. In my first draft Jack was a lot less sympathetic and more Nabokovian. I then realised (with a little help from those who read my first draft) that I couldn’t write like Nabokov. Without his incredible linguistic skill and wit, Humbert Humbert would be a monster no one would want to read about. Also, I realised I wouldn’t want to write another Lolita, even if I could. I love fiction, like Anna Karenina or The Wire, where the characters are likeable in spite of their flaws and where you can sympathise with each of them, even if they’re in conflict with one another. I couldn’t finish Mme Bovary, even though the prose was beautiful, because there was no one I was rooting for.
So when I came to write a second draft, I tried to make Jack more sympathetic and to focus less on Jack’s relationship with his patient and more on his relationship with Laura. This change of tack allowed me to develop Laura’s character and I had the idea of having two unreliable narrators telling the same story. I’ve often thought that most communication is miscommunication – that we seldom say what we mean or understand what the other person said. I’m a barrister and so my day job is all about communication. Lawyers are more precise with their words than most and yet it’s very common for judges to misunderstand what barristers are saying and vice versa. A story about a couple that love each other but break apart through miscommunication was the perfect way of exploring that idea.
Another theme that’s always intrigued me is jealousy. It’s an irrational and primitive emotion but all the more fascinating for it. If we think rationally, we shouldn’t be surprised if the person we love is attracted to other people. Human nature being what it is, those attractions will sometimes be acted upon. And yet, for many men, it’s unbearable to think that our wives or girlfriends might even want to sleep with someone else, let alone that they might actually do it. It makes sense on an evolutionary level but it’s interesting how that primitive instinct plays out in the modern world. It’s no coincidence, I think, that many of my favourite novels feature jealous men – Gatsby, who can’t accept that Daisy might have loved Tom when he was away; Swann, who falls in love with a courtesan precisely because she is sleeping with others and he can’t bear it; Charles Arrowby, who finds himself in his retirement (adorably if absurdly) skulking below the window of a married old woman he loved when they were both teenagers.
Thank you so much Rory for joining us and sharing your inspiration. I always love to hear the story of a novel and its progression.
Today is the last day of the blog tour, but if you missed the other days with more guest posts from Rory then don’t worry, you can find all of the stops below!