1980s

Heart of Glass: Literary Criticism Cheat Sheet

Heart of Glass is a dark tale about obsession, greed and music. It is a pacy literary crime noir thriller exploring the darkness in human nature. It contains Realism, Drama, Tragedy, Horror and Gothic elements. It is loosely naturalistic as a genre, which means the narrative style is straightforward American vernacular prose about mundane things in a way seemingly devoid of sentimentality, emotional investment or attachment. It is written in first person narrative. The characters are products of their environment and their upbringing, and they behave exactly as they please i.e. badly.

The character of Li-an is inspired by the titular character in Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola, a spoilt, immature beautiful woman who does one bad thing after another and another until she cannot stop. She is miserable from doing these things, yet she cannot stop. This is due to her naivete, selfishness, her lack of education and her greed.

Such a thing as a ‘good character’ is impossible to find in Thérèse Raquin as in Heart of Glassthere are just evil and less evil characters. In Thérèse Raquin, all characters are accomplices in some way or another of the murder of Camille, even Camille himself. As in Heart of Glass, all the characters are only concerned about themselves, their own interests. This leads them to cause crazy and intolerable situations in an endless chain of guilt-ridden activities. Survival is the main objective for each character. In Thérèse Raquin, death freed Thérèse and Laurent of their crime, and futile remorse after months of mutual hate and misbehaviour. In Heart of Glass, Paolo’s true love and forgiveness save Li-an and freed her from her obsessive and unreasonable behaviour. The other characters including Ben her accomplice and her Achilles heel, are all guilty or less guilty. Camille, Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Laurent are all victims and guilty; even secondary characters can be accused of selfishness looking just for self-satisfaction.

Emile Zola is one the finest voices in literature and one of my heroes: “I have simply done on two living bodies the kind of analysis that surgeons do on dead bodies.” He aims to strip away the usual literary polite nonsense of describing people to get at the truth of “the human mechanism”. Hence Zola writes about brutality without judgement, without contempt. As a writer what I have written about in Heart of Glass has no sermon, no moral code. The clue is in the title. Warning label: Heart of Glass may shock.

I am not attempting to pass judgement or inflict my own values. The human problem is not of God and morality. It is of the psychological condition. The reader will be coming along for the ride to experience the horrors and the brutality as my characters and I experience them. The reader is trapped inside a world of despair and desperation of the bad character, the human beast. The idea is to explore the beastly character who gets worse and worse until her heart changes what it desires. 

Which brings me to the final point: is there redemption in crime noir or crime writing? What if there is none? What if there is no solution to evil, no Jesus, no Buddha, no saints in this story, only sinners?

Painting: Sobbing Woman in Bed by Edward Munch.

CRY OF THE FLYING RHINO Sneak Preview: Doing my Bit for Postcolonial Literature:

Heart of Glass: Front cover done. Back blurb in progress.

Some delays in August because I was torn between two cover options both of which I liked. Now we’re done being torn. Very exciting. Clue: 1980s! Yes!  In sports news, Cry of the Flying Rhino: Hong Kong – the prize giving ceremony and launch is now only 4 weeks away!

I have been living in Hong Kong time and refuelling on carbs, waking at 2 or 3 am to do live edits and emails in order to not lose a day each time an email comes from the publishers. The 4 rounds of edits are done now. I’ve designed the cover, prepared a Sino-Malay glossary, a map of South East Asia (aside: after Illustrator crashed at 5 am, had to have a go in Photoshop). You don’t realise what goes on backstage. Months and months of prep, and before that, years and years of writing.

Forget the lip gloss. This is the harsh terrain of pre-press. I climb a small mountain every day.

Before you say Mazel Tov,  this book has some history because it was written 12 years ago, been through 14 drafts, and “many” rejections and you know why? It is a bit controversial. Not very, just a bit. Many, many times I wanted to delete it from my hard drive and throw the damn thing away. What saved me from doing it was the voice over my shoulder. Cry raises uneasy themes like race, religion, class struggle, colonisation, diversity, poverty, capitalism, exploitation. All my pet topics, all-in-one.  They are under-represented in English fiction, especially by non-English writers for whom English is a second language.  The themes in Heart of Glass are: imprisonment, greed, displacement, cultural identity. I only speak the truth, dressed up in fiction. I express myself best through music and fiction. 

Some inciting images. These fascinating images sparked off a million ideas before one or two story threads led to writing Cry. I first saw this image of girls tattooing girls and also a photo of this sign on my one trip to Borneo:

I am thrilled that the judges of the prize can see the truth and my point. That is actually the real prize for me, not the prize itself. There’s a door I’ve opened. Through Heart of Glass, I have gained your support and my voice may at last be heard. The next update on Heart of Glass will be very soon. As usual your comments are welcome.