10th Anniversary event with Philip Hensher

Philip Hensher June 2015 002We met on a Friday evening for a drinks and buffet reception at Foyle’s bookshop and were joined by our friends from the Cheltenham group. We then interviewed novelist Philip Hensher.

(Since 2000, Philip Hensher has been listed as one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in Britain, and in 2003 as one of Granta’s twenty Best of Young British Novelists.)

By way of introduction, to say that our Group have recently read and discussed first King of the Badgers and second The Emperor Waltz, and that some members preferred the former and some the latter.

 The Emperor Waltz – martyrdom runs throughout and Philip Hensher June 2015 014one of our members wondered if the reference to St. Perpetua hinted at the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

No – but then again there could be a subconscious link at the time of writing.

PH said of The Emperor Waltz that he had written it straight off as a single sequence from end to end. That entirely rebuts some of our speculations as to its origins that we aired at our last meeting.

Philip Hensher June 2015 022Any clues as to where the titles of the novels come from? We’re particularly intrigued to know who the King of the Badgers is, but also note that the repeated Emperor Waltz motif is a fairly slight one to become the title.

 The publisher was urging him to hurry up and provide a title. He suggested it could be one of the headings from the section e.g. ‘Nothing to hide’ or ‘Nothing to fear’ but you’d really need the two together. So he took the title from Book Two, a quotation from J. P. Martin’s ‘Uncle cleans up’ about the king of badger’s being absent. Is it the absence of Mauro to David? Or David leaving Mauro behind? Or David absent to his parents?

Note that there are significant structural differences between the two books, with a much more complex and demanding series of connections in The Emperor Waltz.

Would it be fair to describe the style of the novel as post-modernist? And was this done in order to secure the readers’ engagement – make us work a bit harder than we otherwise might? Or is it just the way the book came into existence – the spirit moved in that way?

What about the notion of the ‘gay author’, or the author who happens to be gay. It’s a term we’ve often discussed within the group, and that we have recognised as being posing problems – does one dismiss the gay author label as being self-marginalizing, or embrace it? And is there a need for a defined ‘gay canon’ and what or who should it include?

No because we all have different tastes. Someone asked him to read Yuko Mishima but he hated it. (We have our own but it isn’t an agreed list, just a response for those who asked for suggestions.)

There are some memorably ghastly gay men in both novels – e.g. Mauro in King of the Badgers and Andrew in The Emperor Waltz. Of the two, Mauro gets off a bit more lightly than Andrew; does that suggest that PH sees self-righteous hypocrisy as a particularly heinous thing? And does he wrestle with what it means to be a good person?

He carries round characters in his head. He was distressed at heaving to kill of Alexander Burnes (?) The Mulberry Empire because all the others got slaughtered in Afghanistan.

were any characters in Kind of the Badgers that Philip particularly enjoyed writing or were favourites of his.

Philip said that his favourite character was Hettie who stuck pins into her dolls, that in some ways she felt she was him! He went on to describe how characters take on a life of their own and sometimes won’t act like you were intending that they would!  The two teens in The Northern Clemency don’t have sex, even though they’ve been flirting for a long time and their parents are out.

Patrick Gale worries about whether his readers will like his characters.

Interesting to note the use of the Bauhaus movement in TEW as opposed to the numerous other artistic movements, and Bauhaus also notable in Scenes from Early Life. Is the Bauhaus style important to PH simply as a matter of aesthetic preference, or is there more to it than that? Indeed, does the starkness of the style reflect a generally stark outlook on life?

People who think Bauhaus is stark should visit Dasau.

See The Emperor Waltz

Kitchen Venom

Pleasured

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