‘I usually write toward what disturbs me, animates me about something or other.’

In this Man Booker 2018 longlist interview Guy Gunaratne tells us that the idea for In Our Mad and Furious City came from Gunaratne being disturbed by our collective reactions toward extremism and that his follow up book will be a story about a father and son. 

Publication date and time: Published

What’s it like being on the longlist for the first time? 

Oddly calming once the initial excitement settles. All I’ve ever needed is a little quiet and some space in which to write. I have a sense that with this happening for my first novel, it comes with certain affordances for my next. I may be wrong. But perhaps I’ll have a little more time, the sort of elbow room that isn’t usually afforded to new novelists. If so, I’m glad of that. And what a list - all these books have something bold to say about the world and about fiction. It’s a privilege to be named among them. 

What inspired the novel? 

Inspiration may not be the right word. I usually write toward what disturbs me, animates me about something or other. With this novel I was disturbed by our collective reactions toward extremism – be that in the form of terrorist attacks or other forms of fanaticism and zealotry – it seems to always lead, quite understandably, toward a resolute disassociation from the extremist. As if the young men who carry out so-called ‘lone-wolf’ attacks in London or Manchester for example, are monsters and always have been. It comforts us to paint them this way. We seem to believe that their obsessions have nothing to do with our very human compulsion toward extremes. I wanted to interrogate that. I had a sense after the Lee Rigby killing in 2013 that there may be a need to confront parts of ourselves in our monsters. Add to this, an entirely personal need to play with vernacular and look at the inheritance of dialects in a city like London, which to me, has always been a playground for language. 

There are three main characters in the book. Is there one in particular that you relate to the most? Were your friendships growing up like theirs? 

I relate to all of four of the main voices in the book. The three young men are closest to my experience of growing up in London. But there are elements in Caroline and Nelson, their habits, quirks, their relationships to those around them, that I recognise in people I’ve loved and have known. 

Favourite Man Booker-winning novel? 

Disgrace is always up there. I’ve been re-reading it. The God of Small Things showed me how the very best books teach a reader how to read them. Similarly, I owe James Kelman a debt. His book How late it was, how late challenged me to be brave in how to render dialect. There’s three for you. 

What are you working on next? 

A strange, jangly modern day picaresque, I think. Mulching together Arabic and European poetry. That’s what I’ve been telling people at least. It’s really just a story about a father and son. 

Guy Gunaratne