the last Viriconium story
Strictly speaking, “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”, with its demented hedge magicians and their puzzled late-modern ephebe, is the last Viriconium story, in that it gives to the series what might be laughingly referred to as closure. But now there is this other item, which is the last Viriconium story in another sense, written 30 years after the fact just to see what I’d produce in late style–to see what this burned-out other me, affect flattened by age, voice bleached out to the faint, destroyed tones of Dr Petromax, expectations drastically lowered and genuinely de-romanticised, would make of the typical Viriconian material–but perhaps more importantly, of himself. Well, it’s done, it’s the customary four or five thousand words and it will be available to view, more or less soon, depending on the vagaries of the publishing industry. And it’s good, in that it’s odd, it unearthed plenty of stuff and it isn’t too badly written. So: result. But in the end what it makes me think about most is how an individual’s lifetime identity, personality and emotional history can be determined by early reading. I am not talking here about “influence”, on a “writer” but about the formative years of a person. I read LP Hartley’s The Go Between in 1963 or 1964: watching Jim Broadbent and Jack Hollington play Leo in the recent BBC version, I now see that my life was almost as wrenched by the book’s emotional demands as Leo’s is by his encounter with Marian. Hartley was so desperate to get over his warning–and as a reader I was so desperate to signal to him that I’d understood it–that I took it on and acted upon it the way Leo never could. Reading can induce, or encourage, such vast parallax errors. I feel now that parts of my life have probably been a disaster as a result of learning too well the lesson Leo doesn’t seem to learn at all. Other books that formed or wrenched me in other ways: The Flight From the Enchanter, Iris Murdoch; Pincher Martin, William Golding; A Fine Madness, Elliott Baker; Mooncranker’s Gift, Barry Unsworth; Love for Lydia, HE Bates. I’m sure there are fifty others. Please don’t go away and use these authors to “interpret” what I write. You would have to have known me very well for a generation or two for that act of divination to have any force at all. And–again as a result of my formative reading–I can, sadly, be certain that you haven’t.