Last time, I argued that A Girl is a Half-formed Thing had thrown down a challenge that self-publishing would find it hard to meet. Little did I know when I posted that and faced the inevitable barrage on Facebook that within a few days I would read a book whose raw lyrical genius made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Cured Meat is the best book I’ve read this year. A dark urban semi-autobiographical retelling of The Odyssey it is one of those books that celebrates the glorious triumph of the human spirit on even the darkest of journeys. I cannot implore you enough – buy this book. Please. A perfect companion to Tony O’Neill’s Digging the Vein, Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys and the very finest films of Derek Jarman, this is what self-publishing should be – brave, beautiful, lyrical, edgy, daring, with an emotional punch that will leave you breathless. But first, let’s meet its brilliant author, Polly Trope.
Polly Trope. I get the Odysseus reference. But I’m also thinking of Poly Styrene and The Slits…
Polly Trope and you get the reference : congratulations, you’re only the second to notice. I think i was too geeky for my own good when I thought everyone would get it. But people have had a variety of wonderful and exhilarating reactions to the name, associations I never even thought of, such as polymers, and TV tropes.
2) The Odyssey is a story that still has an intoxicating appeal. Why do you think that is?
Why does the Odyssey continue to appeal and delight — I think that is the question every classicist is secretly pondering. If you take a step back and think about books, literature, and possible plot lines, the Odyssey represents an archetypal kind of narrative that traces the return home from a faraway place, so it taps into nostalgia and a desire to go back to the past, but, like a surreal road movie, it features many monsters and snares along the way; it features magic, myth, monsters, gods and humans and it’s nautical tale, too, and ships, shipwrecks and the winds and the sea as imagery speak to almost everybody in some way. Also there is an element of the explorer’s bravado and a sense of adventure in this great tale of the great unknown that lies beyond the familiar ports, and the unknown is obviously a fascination– especially with the frisson of supernatural creatures, the high risks and narrow escapes.
3) More specifically, how does the notion of home, wandering, rootedness and rootlessness resonate with you. You have moved about a huge amount in your life – at what stage did you feel as though you were lost and looking for home, and do you ever think you will feel that you have come home?
it sounds cheesy but I think home is where the heart is. My heart is with the people I love.Already as a child, I grew up moving house and country a lot and I spoke three languages from the beginning. This has probably made me a very good linguist, but I never developed a strong feeling of belonging anywhere. It bugged me when I was a child coming into my teens, because I felt rejected for other reasons, too. But in the meantime, I’ve found people and activities to make me very happy indeed. Whilst I’ve acquired the ability to make myself at home in many different places, I am still wondering if there is somewhere really “right for me”, so to speak. I have high hopes for New Orleans, maybe, but I’ve never even been there.
4) You have written very candidly about how your addiction began through your experience of mental health and the medication thereof. It’s a hugely divisive subject – sometimes it feels like a battle for control over someone’s body. How do you feel in general about the way we handle mental health and medication as a society?
I feel awful about the way we as a society handle mental health and medication. But that “we” is really quite a broken down and splintered we, I’d say. I think, in society now there is simply less and less room for individuals to voice their inner feelings and, sometimes, inner desperation or anger, even though the desperation or anger might in many cases be quite legitimate. I think everyone nowadays is a bit stressed, and only very few people expend the time to take notice of their friends/relatives’ mental wellbeing or illness. And also, I notice many individuals are not listening to the early signs their own body and mind give them — they let themselves get over-tired, they over-do drink or drugs, or let bad relationships or bad situations of other kinds go on for too long. Ultimately I think this is how many people end up going crazy. I don’t think it’s very much to do with genes. maybe 5% is genes, the rest i would say is bad nurture. Because nobody really knows how to handle it, it gets sent to this obscure place, the shrink’s, where nobody really wants to look or see. I think that’s bloody lame. I think if an individual has a problem and goes psychotic, everyone who is in the surroundings of this individual and his circles and network, has a problem too. it’s just the one that’s pulling down the dirty curtains, but it’s not fair to say that’s the only person with a problem.
5) In fact, much of your story feels like a battle for control of your body. Does that resonate at all with how you feel, looking back, and do you feel now that you have reached a position where you have taken back control completely?
a battle for control of my body — neat, I never thought of it that way. It is a battle of some sort. But I don’t know what for. For unsticking myself from society and its inane prejudices, and at the same time, to create something beautiful from the pain that could, in turn, be appreciated and understood. No, I’ve not taken control back completely, but I think people who do that die trying. Still, I try
6) Your storytelling technique is fragmentary. You say that you would like Cured Meat to be able to be read in any order. In a way this reminded me of David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide. Do you think the literary establishment is too hung up on narrative, linearity, and the need for things to flow in a recognisable arc?
The literary establishment… Hmm. I don’t know. It probably is rather hung up, yes. The whole mainstream media — music, television, corporate youtube channels, bestselling books — is a major bore to me. But some writers succeed admirably within the given parameters. I’m an avid reader of the London Review of Books, the Irish Literary Times, New Yorker, the TLS, and things like that. And I love Hilary Mantel, just to name just one example. Still, I think I come from a different place in my mind and in my artistic wishes. Unlike some, I’m not intent on being popular as much as I want to give myself a sense of achievement according to my own standards. I wanted to write this book and do with it exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t afraid of failure. I would have tried again if this had not worked.
7) Which brings me in an, erm, arc back to the Odyssey, which is linear but also structured episodically, and compiled from many voices. I wonder if that’s also something that resonates with you, and how you feel in regard to Cured Meat. By that I mean, there is a sense in which it is both a collection of diverse voices telling different stories, and also something that has been compiled by a single redactor with a very singular purpose. Do you think of yourself more as a series of diverse narrators or as a single unifying editor?
You got me! 100% . I love hearing other people tell stories from their lives. I love stories and words and my vivid imagination makes a gigantic technicolor fiesta out of a simple story told at the dinner table. Later, I write. Without my knowing or sometimes with my full knowledge, everything finds its ways into my creative processes. I work with poetic imagery a lot, much more than I can see/do in visual art. I think with writing, I’ve really found my medium, and I use it for my own life, for the lives of others, for a blur between the two…
8) Finally, the literary world needs more… And it needs less…
the literary world needs more awareness that the reading habits of people are changing. And it needs less guys with a beard smoking a pipe.