British novelist Glen Duncan's A Day and a Night and a Day delves into a contemporary world “more filthy than just.”
With its focus on terrorism and torture, your novel touches on what's considered a great moral failing of the Bush administration. What drew you to the topic?
It's less that I was drawn to it, more that I couldn't ignore it. There's nothing new about government corruption, megalomania and lawlessness, but there's something new about the brazenness with which the current administration put its vices on display. The ecclesiastical equivalent would be the Vatican saying: Yeah, half our priests are pedophiles. So what?
The interaction between Augustus Rose, an uncommon terrorist, and Harper, his charismatic torturer, veers between horrific violence and a kind of mutual admiration. Did your research into what happened at Abu Ghraib inform their relationship?
This book was always going to be a dialogue about the relationship between morality and power, so obviously, one needs characters who can talk to each other. But Harper has, I hope, a subtler mind than anything on offer at Abu Ghraib. He's there primarily to do away with the idea that atrocity relies on derangement, one of our dearest fallacies. What interested me about Abu Ghraib wasn't what went on inside (which was predictable), but its effect when splashed all over the media. What, beyond the requisite postures of horror, did we really think about it?
Rose, the “terrorist,” has ties to an organization that practices “vigilante democracy,” targeting unnamed American administration members as well as Third World tyrants. A purely fictional construct? Or did your research uncover a terrorist group we don't know about?
I could tell you, but there would be unpleasant consequences. For me.
Several of your novels explore the extremes of human behavior, as does your latest. What's the topic's attraction?
I follow Auden's dictum that the novelist must “among the Just/Be just, among the Filthy filthy too,/ And in his own weak person, if he can,/Dully put up with all the wrongs of Man.” I'm probably more filthy than just, but so is the world I'm writing about.
Though it's linked by dark (and often witty) writing, your work otherwise can't be pegged. What's coming next, now that you've considered torture, revenge, religious turmoil and Lucifer in your seven books?
You forgot pornography, prostitution, rape, child murder and suicide. Out of sheer superstition, I don't discuss work in progress, but I'm very interested in the business of private soldiering just now, so I'm sure that's finding its way in.