Empathy with evil

Richard de Nooy’s latest book The Unsaid tells a single story via a number of viewpoints, most originating from the protagonist, who is a writer – and thus a teller of stories (as opposed to truth).

And to make things even more complex, said protagonist – journalist JR Deo – is under psychological supervision as he tells his tale, having been sentenced to a sanitorium after attacking some fellow correspondents.

“It’s a fragmented narrative,” admits De Nooy.

“The different documents involved convey information or truth in different ways. I’m fascinated by the way that works. And the formal elements make readers question whether or not it’s fiction masquerading as non-fiction. It’s a bit like when you read books comprised of a number of letters recalling past experiences.”

De Nooy explains that The Unsaid is the last in a loose trilogy that includes his first two books, Six Fang Marks And A Tetanus Shot and The Big Stick. To many readers, the link might seem tenuous, as the protagonists are very different people in some ways.

“We all change,” says De Nooy.

“The narrator changes over the course of the trilogy, from brash wild child to finding his way as a traumatised man. Ultimately, I’d like the whole thing published in omnibus form, almost like Cloud Atlas. I’m working on my fourth book now, but I keep finding myself referring to it as my second book. The first three are a project I’ve been working on for decades – parts of The Unsaid were written as short stories 20 years ago.

“I wrote all of them intuitively around a central skeleton – the concept of ‘What if Id chosen a different direction in my life?'”

Unpacking De Nooy’s complex vision is put on hold temporarily as, across the road from where we’re sitting, a man lays into a BMW with his umbrella, shouting at the driver but not asking for help, as his girlfriend looks on.

“Inspiration for stories is everywhere,” grins De Nooy.

“In The Unsaid, the short stories Deo tells were written from his perspective, but they were also an opportunity to explore new avenues as a writer. My new book is a series of short stories with a single thread, that takes place in 20 different countries. I struggled with the bleakness of The Unsaid, so I needed to write something uplifting. The new one includes a number of random acts of kindness.”

De Nooy appears to be a big fan of combining different stories.

“I have a shelf full of ideas,” he smiles.'”I write the one that appeals to me the most.

“In The Unsaid, I found that exploring feelings of empathy for people who are clearly bad was an incredible concept. I don’t see these characters as evil men; I see them as guys with corrupted hard drives who make bad choices.

“I like to ask questions like, ‘What drives that?’. It forces me to get extra perspective. For instance, if someone killed one of my children, he’d be a monster to me, but as an author, I need to look at it with more omniscience.”,

If De Nooy is worried, as the writer, about the bleakness of his work, what does he expect from his readers?

“I set out to write something that fascinates me,” he says, “and I can only hope that kindred spirits will read it in a similar way.”




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