Q&A with Frank Golden on his new novel The Night Game
‘There is nothing in the novel more harrowing than what people read in their newspaper’
Frank Golden: ‘Novels are necessarily reflective of their times. We live, as we have always lived in violent times.’
Frank Golden is a poet, novelist and visual artist living in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. His latest novel The Night Game has just been published by Salmon.
What’s your novel about?
I think it was John Banville who in response to this question said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Oh just the usual stuff - sex, death, and the imagination”. With The Night Game there’s all of that together with a sprinkling of identity fragmentation, the nature of memory, and issues of power and the abuse of power.
What inspired you to write it?
One thing you need to know about this novel is that it had an earlier life as a film script. The Irish Film Board invested some money in it but ultimately it was never realised as a film.
The story, however, continued to intrigue me, partly because of the issues it raised in relation to borderline and profound personality disorders. It introduced a degree of unreliability which is always attractive to a writer, and a fusion of interior and outer worlds.
Having written a few drafts of the screenplay, the basic dynamics of the story were in place, as was a substantial amount of the dialogue. What the novelisation has done, I think, is to deepen it. Novels bring interiority, screenplays structure and immediacy. I have tried to hold onto that immediacy, and so the story is told largely in the present tense. Inevitably there are flashbacks but the reader is very much present to the reality of the situation as it unfolds for the characters.
But to go back to the inspiration for the novel, it originally came from an interest in questions of how memory can be structured, dissociation, and the nature of memory and consciousness itself. A lot of writing is necessarily about memory, its reliability and unreliability, its partiality and so forth.
Are there any writers you would reference as being critical to you?
With regard to this book perhaps the American writers Chuck Palahniuk, and Bret Easton Ellis, and the Martin Amis who wrote Other People. The last of these is interesting in that I asked an early reader of the book - the poet and screenwriter Patrick Chapman - if The Night Game reminded him of anything, and he mentioned Other People. There are some uncanny similarities, in that both books have to do with memory, memory loss, memory transitions, and they are both quite surreal. They end up being very different kinds of books, and you go on a different kind of journey, but some of the areas under scrutiny are similar.
The story is set in New York. Is location important to you?
Location is always critical. My first novel was set in a desert. I had lived in Kuwait in the early 80s, and while it was an unattractive society on many levels the desert was an extraordinary, and an extraordinarily sustaining and replenishing, space. The spring I was there we had the first rain in over a decade and the desert just blossomed.
In that novel, which was called The Two Women of Aganatz, the desert became a metaphorical landscape, and in a way the city scape of New York, shrouded in fog, has a similar role in The Night Game. Initially I set the novel in an unnamed city, one which was an amalgam of New York, Dublin and London. This was meant to induce in the reader a sense of dislocation, which in turn was meant to be a mirroring of the dissociation experienced by some of the characters.
In the end I justified it to New York. New York was somewhere I lived for four or five years, and although The Night Game is not a paean to the city in the way that some of my poems from that period are, the city is a formidable presence in the book.
The novel is quite dark. What is your attitude to violence in novels?
Novels are necessarily reflective of their times. We live, as we have always lived in violent times. Humans have an insatiable appetite for prurient and voyeuristic observation. Of course one shouldn’t pander to that, but I think one has of necessity to factor it in. It is interesting to define what you actually have a tolerance for and how that changes.
Now you can watch someone being beheaded on YouTube, or someone being burned alive, or read of how children are forced to rape their mothers or sister or kill them. All of these horrors are part and parcel of what we consume on a daily basis. So where are the limits? In the news at the moment is a murder, with the suspected murderer believed to have sent some quite strange texts. There is nothing in the novel that is any more harrowing, I believe, than what people are reading on a daily basis in their newspapers.
Is this a genre novel?
No, or not particularly. It has some of the constituent elements of a psychological thriller, but it is written in quite a literary style, and has a lot of intense introspect, which perhaps shunts it outside the more mainstream examples of the genre.