Evers, Stuart, New Statesman (1996)
Your first novel, Remainder, was fiercely contemporary, but C is set at the turn of the 20th century. What made you write a historical novel?
I don't see it as a historical novel. It's not a study of that time, of Edwardian London or Europe. Maybe you get some of that as a side effect, but I'm more interested in something that's at the same time very contemporary and very ancient, which is the relationship between language and technology and the human subject. But yes, the period particularly interested me because of the emergence of radio and the golden years of modernism. It's the time when "The Waste Land" and Ulysses were both written.
Was there pressure to write essentially a sequel to Remainder?
Not from the publishers, not at all. But this critic guy I know took me aside at a party and said, "Well done, Tom. OK, you've had great success with Remainder, but I'm going to give you a very important bit of advice here: don't do anything new. Write the same book again, and then write it again until you're 60, and that's how you'll have a career." He was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but my response was: "I've done repetition [the plot of Remainder concerns a man who is compelled to repeat everyday actions]." I do think that there are similar concerns to Remainder in C, though: it's about mediation and trauma.
The scenes set during the First World War are brilliantly described--but has it become a cliche for writers to "do" war?
I've always wanted to write something like that, about being up in the air in the First World War. But I'm plugging into something different from the Wilfred Owen view of war; I'm looking at it like Marinetti. He basically thought that war is great, war is pure poetry. I find the anti-humanist, avant-garde tradition more dynamic and also (though it might be provocative to say this) more truthful. When I listen to interviews with First World War veterans conducted in the 1970s, they start out saying, "War's terrible but I had to do my bit for king and country," but then ten minutes later they're saying how exhilarating it is to be roaring through space in a beautiful machine.
Both Remainder and C have strong narratives. …