SYNOPSES OF LONG AND SHORT PROSE

BY JOHN O'LOUGHLIN

 

 

LONG PROSE

 

01. CHANGING WORLDS: My first novel, written during the summer of 1976, is a largely autobiographical account of three days in the life of a clerk-turning-writer by name of Michael Savage, whose disillusionment with the drudgery of office work has led him to quit his job in London's West End in order to dedicate himself to a literary career ... come what may.  In this regard, Savage is a sort of Henry Miller, who doesn't believe in doing things by half-measures and, consequently, to him there is no sense in remaining a clerk when one has an imperative desire to become a writer and thus effectively 'change worlds'.  For him, it is a make-or-break situation, all the more poignant for its unfolding against a background of indifference or hostility from colleagues and relatives alike!  Of all my novels, CHANGING WORLDS is (together with FIXED LIMITS) by far the most subjective, with long passages of interior monologue which often overlap, to ironic effect, with conversational or observational settings, though I have taken extra care to differentiate reflection from conversation by utilizing single quotes in the one context and double quotes in the other - a stratagem which, though unorthodox, has probably done more than anything to condition my preference, contrary to literary norms, for double quotes in relation to conversational passages virtually right the way through my fictional oeuvre.  However that may be, it was probably the degree of this novel's subjectivity combined with its revolutionary technique which alienated most London publishers (apart from 'vanity press' ones) when first I attempted to have it published back in the late 1970s, and to this day I am proud of the fact that I was able to subvert literary objectivity to such a radical extent that ... the result is more philosophic than fictional, thus heralding my true destiny in the more unequivocally philosophical works to come!

 

02. FIXED LIMITS: If CHANGING WORLDS betrays the influence (through souped-up interior monologue) of James Joyce on my early fiction, then the chief inspiration behind this fictional journal was undoubtedly Jean-Paul Sartre or, rather, Sartre's first novel Nausea, which made such a profound impression on me ... that I simply felt I had to attempt something similar - albeit within a necessarily different milieu and social setting.  This was in the autumn of 1976, and the result was an account of some three weeks in the life of the very same character whom we first encounter as a disillusioned clerk in the earlier novel, but whose existence here, as a budding writer, is nothing short of a spiritual rebirth!  Now that Michael Savage has become or, at any rate, is in the process of becoming his intellectual self ... we are led into an even more subjective world than that of his previous incarnation, with further opportunities for both autobiographical and philosophical speculation on my part.  In fact, FIXED LIMITS should be regarded as the sequel to CHANGING WORLDS, without prior reference to which much of its subject-matter and settings would seem difficult if not impossible to understand.  For me, this was the literary Black Hole which led into a new universe of fictional writings thereafter, beyond the reach of my early mentors.

 

03. CROSS-PURPOSES: This novel moves beyond the largely autobiographical concerns of my earlier experiments in the genre towards a more fictional integrity which led me by the nose, so to speak, into contexts and settings largely outside the domain of personal experience.  To be sure, the subjectivity of my first novel is in some degree still present (witness the opening chapter ... with its highly philosophical considerations), but it is now subordinate to the unfolding narrative ... as we follow the fortunes of James Kelly, a self-styled philosopher, through successive love-affairs which clash with his loyalties to friends and benefactors alike, culminating in deception and tragedy for all concerned.  One would think that CROSS-PURPOSES was a philosophical-novel-turned-romance, and so, up to a point, it is.  But it is also a tribute, in no small measure, to both Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller; though one might be forgiven for detecting an implicit condemnation of the latter in the 'Paris chapter', as I like to think of Chapter 7, where Kelly's attitude to sexual promiscuity is concerned!  However, that is still my favourite chapter in what is probably my best novel.

 

04. AN INTERVIEW REVIEWED: This novel was written just after the above and is both more complex and subtler than its stylistic precursor.  Basically, the plot revolves around the efforts of Anthony Keating, a young correspondent for an arts periodical based in London's West End, to conduct a  prearranged interview with world-famous composer Howard Tonks when, to his dismay, the person who would normally have conducted the interview had gone down with influenza at the last moment.  Due to lack of experience in this field  Keating fails to complete his assignment on the specified day and is obliged to accept an alternative date for later that same week, when Tonks is due to return from a professional engagement in Birmingham.  However, the composer is detained there an extra day and, due to a combination of unforeseen factors, Keating ends-up seducing his daughter ... with disastrous consequences for both of them!  For they are discovered in flagrante delicto by Mr Tonks' elderly housekeeper, and word eventually gets back to the composer himself, causing serious allegations and misunderstandings which put not only the interview but Keating's very career as a correspondent for 'Arts Monthly' in jeopardy.  Ultimately only Howard Tonks' daughter, Rebecca, can save Keating from additional humiliation, but not before several turns in the plot have led him into deeper trouble with his boss and colleagues, and duly resulted in his dismissal.  However, thanks to Rebecca's influence with her father, the interview eventually goes ahead, and the resulting dilemma for 'Arts Monthly' is whether to publish or shelve it in view of the surrounding circumstances and the dismissal of its principal instigator from his post.  It is the composer himself, however, who has the final say, and it comes as both a shock and a delight to Anthony Keating. -  Those looking for philosophy in AN INTERVIEW REVIEWED will find much food for thought, as will those for whom humour is a sine qua non of literary entertainment.

 

05. THWARTED AMBITIONS: This, the first of three loosely-related novels written in 1980 and dealing with art and artists, is the tragic and, in some sense, pathetic account of a young artist by name of Robert Harding who is so obsessed with advancing his career ... that he becomes blind to the sexual machinations of Henry Grace, a wealthy and influential art critic, to seduce him whilst ostensibly posing as his admiring patron.  For Grace seems to be just the answer to Harding's professional ambitions, and the artist allows himself to be led from commission to commission by the older man without the slightest suspicion of what the latter is really all about.  But it is Carol, Harding's modelling girlfriend, whose suspicions are first aroused and, together with both the writer Andrew Doyle, who is Harding's next-door neighbour, and a professional acquaintance of hers, she plots to thwart Grace's sexual ambitions - with tragic consequences for the critic, as things turn out in this far from implausible narrative!

 

06. SECRET EXCHANGES: An artist is invited by his girlfriend to visit her parents in the provinces and, failing to get on with her father, duly finds himself inviting her mother to his London studio where, to his shame, he allows himself to be seduced by her whilst apparently teaching her to meditate.  Thereafter things go from bad to worse for Matthew Pearce, not to mention his girlfriend's mother, whose tetchy and ailing husband has discovered what he believes to be concrete evidence of her infidelity.  Yet Deirdre Evans is determined to capitalize on Matthew's previous hospitality, just as the latter is having serious doubts not only about her but, thanks in part to their affair, about his relationship with her daughter, Gwendolyn, as well!  Then, one evening, a friend of Gwen's turns up at his place and, before long, she precipitates him into a new and more passionate affair - in fact, the kind of affair for which he had been hoping all along!  So now it seems he can dispense with both Gwen and her mother and take up with Linda instead - provided, however, that she can secure a divorce from her husband on grounds of incompatibility.  For Linda Daniels is also a married woman, and, like Mrs Evans, the man to whom she is married proves himself to be no friend of Matthew Pearce!  Could that be the main motive for Pearce's willingness, bordering on recklessness, to enter into affairs with both women?  The reader is left to decide this and so much else for himself in what is, by any account, an ironic commentary on human relationships and their social and ideological interactions!

 

07. LOGAN'S INFLUENCE: Invited to a party by his friend, Martin Thurber, the avant-garde writer Keith Logan quickly begins to turn their host against him by his radical views on God, evolution, religion, literature, etc., with a result that he quite spoils the party atmosphere for Edward Hurst, and unwittingly puts the future of Thurber's employment as an art critic for Hurst's magazine in jeopardy ... when, under duress of a hangover the following morning, the publisher decides to dispense with his art reviews partly in revenge for the intellectual humiliations inflicted upon him by Logan the previous night.  Yet Hurst has a crush on Thurber's girlfriend, who was also at the party, and, bumping into him in the street one afternoon, Greta Ryan elects to place her body at Hurst's disposal if only he will agree not to take any disciplinary action against Thurber.  Reluctantly, Hurst agrees to her proposal and it looks as though, thanks to her influence, Thurber's future as an art critic is assured.  In the meantime, however, the latter has invited Keith Logan to accompany him to a West End gallery in order to view an avant-garde artist whom he has been commissioned to review for Hurst, and before long he falls under the writer's radical influence and ends-up penning quite the most eulogistic review of such an artist ever!  Hurst, however, is less than impressed, and, under pressure from his sub-editor, he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to reject Thurber's review and effectively break his promise to Greta.  Naturally when the latter hears about this from her boyfriend, who now faces dismissal, she is incensed, and secretly vows to take her revenge on Hurst.  Unable to confide in Thurber, who knows nothing of her sexual accommodation with his boss, she visits Keith Logan and together they decide to contact Hurst's brother-in-law, to see if he can be persuaded to publish the review instead, since he also runs an arts magazine.  Happily for Thurber, Colin Patmore agrees to publish it, though only on condition that Greta befriends him on terms similar to those earlier secured by Hurst - or so one is led to infer from the dénouement, in which Logan witnesses Greta and Patmore getting into a taxi together and heading along the Charing Cross Road.  Echoes of AN INTERVIEW REVIEWED abound here, though LOGAN'S INFLUENCE is much deeper and more radical in its theorizing, as well as more cynical in its evaluation of human relationships.

 

08. SUBLIMATED RELATIONS: A young religious writer named Timothy Byrne accepts an invitation from Lord Handon, an aristocratic admirer of his work, to spend New Year's Eve in the company of a select gathering at Rothermore House, Handon's country retreat, and winds up first dancing and then falling in love with one of his fellow guests, who happens to be an opera singer.  Much debate and festivity take place before Timothy discovers, in conjunction with the other guests, that the real motive for their presence there is to learn of and offer his services to the 'Voice Museum', an extraordinary project situated in London's Piccadilly which houses voice recordings of famous people in soundproofed booths where, for a small sum, the public can sample words of wisdom and/or folly at the touch of a button.  Thus it is that Timothy Byrne agrees to allow his voice to be recorded for future use by the museum's principal director, Girish O'Donnell - as, of course, do each of the other guests, all of whom are either established or budding talents in the arts.  Meanwhile Lord Handon has been attempting to conduct a low-key relationship with Sarah Field, the opera singer, though with little success, in view of her preference for Timothy and knowledge of the viscount's secret - a secret which has more than a little to do with the strange nature of his relations, necessarily sublimated, with women.  Equally unsuccessful are Handon's attempts to subvert Byrne's spiritual standing as a self-styled guru through his daughter, Geraldine, though, unbeknown to anyone else, the writer has already undermined it through Sarah and has no need of further seductions!  Another of my philosophic-turned-romantic novels, SUBLIMATED RELATIONS is nevertheless much bolder and freer than the others.

 

09. DECEPTIVE MOTIVES: With an opening chapter that highlights the duplicity of a husband towards his wife, this novel builds on the marital dissatisfactions and grudges of its principal heroine, Julie Foster, and couples them to the literary and social dissatisfactions, grudges, etc., of one Peter Morrison, an unpublished and seemingly unpublishable writer, as the two characters bump into each other in a restaurant, after many years, and Julie agrees to accompany Morrison back to his squalid flat where, contrary to her expectations, he simply proceeds to expatiate on his political and philosophical views, and to disburden himself of a number of anti-social grudges.  He does, however, invite her to visit him again and, to his surprise, she accepts the invitation and turns up a couple of days later.  This time they get down to some serious sexual congress but, in the process, Julie impulsively reveals that she is married and Morrison, aghast at her deception, loses his temper and proceeds to strangle her.  Overcome with remorse, he attempts to mollify Julie, now a corpse, by taking photographs of her in a variety of erotic poses, and is then faced with the unsavoury task of disposing of her body.  However, an old friend of Julie's becomes suspicious by her failure to turn up at a pre-arranged rendezvous and, aware from a prior phone conversation that Julie was intending to visit Morrison, begins to make inquiries about him from what little information she has.  Eventually, she tracks him down to his latest address and, mindful of the fact that he once had amorous leanings towards her, falls into a frantic sexual coupling with him.  Things are looking good for Peter at this point but, whilst he is out of the room, Deirdre discovers photographic evidence of Julie's murder and proceeds to accost him with it on his return.  Unable to calm her down or explain away the evidence, he is obliged to kill her too, thus saddling himself with the problem of disposing of yet another corpse!  Subsequently he moves to Ireland and, under the alias of James Coughlin, becomes something of an intellectual and ideological hero, the 'coming man' and potential saviour of his country.  However, there is someone in the audience at one of his lectures who was with Julie in the restaurant on the day she was approached by Morrison, and this woman now begins to recognize who Coughlin really is.  Horrified, she rushes out of the hall and heads for home, leaving a bemused husband struggling in her frantic wake.  What happens next is indeed an ironic commentary on loyalties; for caught between her recognition of Coughlin and a  realization of his political importance to the country, she in unable to reveal his true identity and winds-up committing suicide to save his reputation.  Before she dies, however, she has second thoughts about her terrible secret.  But her expiring mumblings of the truth to her husband are misinterpreted, in what is the final and most ironic 'deceptive motive' of them all!

 

10. FALSE PRETENCES: Written in the late-Spring of 1982, this novel has something of a Spring-like ebullience about it which takes us to the Norfolk countryside and to the stratagems of a radical writer-turned-artist by name of Jason Crilly (who for the most part remains veiled behind first-person narrations) to shake off a depression he contracted while living alone in an insalubrious part of North London.  His wife Susan, whom he married shortly after moving to Norfolk, is one of the stratagems in his arsenal in this respect.  Also living in Norfolk are a number of eccentric or ironic personages who make a variety of claims on our protagonist's time, the most conspicuous of whom is Edmond Shead, the inventor of an artificial copulator, who requires of him that he uses his not inconsiderable artistic talents to depict this machine to graphic effect, thereby assisting Lyttleton, a businessman with designs on its production, to make a commercial success of it.  Shortly afterwards Jason Crilly renews connections with an old flame of his and this takes him temporarily back to London where, in view of her good looks and the sexual dissatisfactions he has recently been feeling towards his wife, he allows himself to be seduced by her.  Of even greater significance, however, is the fact that Philomena has just inherited a substantial property in the country and is anxious to move into it as soon as possible.  But her husband, who works in London, has no desire to give up his job in order to move there with her, since he has good prospects of promotion and is temperamentally averse to the idea of living in the country.  That leaves Philomena with the dilemma of whether to sell Blandon, her country house, or secure a divorce from her husband in order to move there with someone else.  And that puts the pressure on our protagonist to decide whether he should leave Susan for Philomena, and hence an even bigger and more peacefully secluded house in which to conduct his campaign against depression.  Fortunately for him this decision is made easier by his secret discovery of Susan's infidelity when he returns to Norfolk, since she is having an affair with their local doctor, and that puts him in an easier frame-of-mind with which to return, subsequently, to Philomena and move with her to Blandon.  However, before their separation, his wife induces him to provide her with a child, but not exactly in the conventional manner!  The good doctor suspects nothing of the deception, however, and proceeds to marry Susan as a matter of course.  Those who esteem writers like the aforementioned Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell will probably find FALSE PRETENCES to their taste.

 

11. POST-ATOMIC INTEGRITIES: This little novella, based around an autobiographical fantasy, shares with FALSE PRETENCES the stylistic device of first-person narrative, and relates the nocturnal visit of an old acquaintance to the flat of an admirer who had optimistically written to her in the hope of receiving a positive response.  What follows is a romantic pact in which Carmel agrees to live with Joe, provided he accepts responsibility for her daughter, Julia.  He does, and the trio live happily ever after, or so it seems.  For when Julia comes of age there is a sexual treat in store for her which conforms to the post-atomic integrity of our narrative, and such an integrity owes nothing to conventional or traditional marital customs!  In fact, marriage is completely out-of-the-question for these three people, whose raison d'être is to remain free and liberated, come what may!  Clashes of interest inevitably occur, but it seems that the women are prepared to accommodate this radical philosopher and live on a sexually equal basis with their man, or so one is led to suppose.

 

12. THE POLITICS OF SEXUALITY: A six-chapter novella of first-person and loosely autobiographical tendency, THE POLITICS OF SEXUALITY explores the concept of sexual politics, or the notion that every mode of politics has a sexual corollary.  Although such an idea was by no means new to my work at this time (1984), it hadn't been explored to anything like the same extent before, and it is a theme to which I have since returned quite frequently, always seeking to improve upon my initial theories, which, through bitter experience over the years, I've learnt to regard as more of a springboard to better things than as a definitive statement.

 

 

SHORT PROSE

 

13. A MAGNANIMOUS OFFER: This little collection of prose pieces is composed of four one-act plays, or playlets, two of which are straight dialogues, together with a couple of short stories which I wrote at about the same time (1976), and which I believe to have a loosely poetic quality and deserve, for stylistic reasons, to be included with the playlets, the title piece of which is a shamelessly facetious spoof on Oscar Wilde.

 

14. A VISIT TO HELL: My first real collection of short prose, written during the autumn of 1979, combines literary and philosophical themes.  Surprisingly, the overall result is not displeasing and, although the subject-matter and settings of one or two of the contents are slightly dated, the best of them retain a freshness and relevance to the contemporary and, I hope, future world which should stand them in good stead for several years to-come.  Of the eight examples included, I especially recommend the title piece, 'A Visit to Hell', as a reflection, albeit slightly distorted by literary licence, of contemporary life in all its diabolical frenzy and hell-bent cacophony!

 

15. FROM THE DEVIL TO GOD: This collection of short prose, written on and off during the winter of 1980-81, starts in a relatively literary fashion with the account of a clandestine visit of a masseuse to a priest who can no longer cope with his celibacy, and ends in a profoundly futuristic manner with an account of evolutionary progress towards a definitive Beyond, as envisaged by a radical philosopher.  In between there comes a fairly balanced alternation between literary and philosophical subjects ... as we follow the voyeuristic pleasures of a man covertly watching his wife getting dressed from the comfort of his early-morning bed; explore the evolutionary revelations of a de Chardinesque gnostic in the face of atheistic unbelief; witness the horror of a Mondrianesque ascetic, whose rural daytrip out of London with some friends proves to be more unsettling than he had bargained for; and go beyond conventional concepts of the Millennium, as of Millennialism, with a revolutionary thinker who believes that only when human brains are artificially supported and sustained will there be any prospect of heavenly salvation of a definitive order.

 

16. DREAM COMPROMISE: This collection of short prose, dating from the autumn of 1981, includes what is arguably the most literary piece I have ever written - namely 'A Canine Crime', which deals with the problems of dog ownership in an age and society which has turned against such a thing, making it illegal.  Also of special note here is the fetishistically erotic 'Nolan's Investigations', which opens the collection, and the partly autobiographical title piece 'Dream Compromise', which has a trick in its tail, so to speak.... As, incidentally, does the volume as a whole, in that it ends with a series of aphorisms, in keeping with the broadly philosophical bias of my maturer literary works.

 

17. MILLENNIAL PROJECTIONS: This fictional compilation, dating from 1982, combines some sixteen short-prose pieces with subjects ranging from musical evolution to Christmas trees, Black Holes to Esperanto, and space travel to modern art.  Of this number, my favourite is the title piece, a fantasy projection into a millennial future in which we enter the mind of a superman who is preparing to undergo an 'acid trip', view life in what is called the 'post-human millennium' from a spiritual leader's standpoint as he grapples with his counselling responsibilities vis-à-vis the superhuman flock, and sample a controller's perspective on post-human life from the administrative sidelines.  One could argue that this is my Brave New World, but it was with a view to refuting Huxleyite cynicism that I set out to fashion so positive a futuristic projection.

 

18. A SELFISH MAN: Another volume of short prose, in which a number of my principal philosophical themes are recycled in literary guise for the benefit of a wider understanding, A SELFISH MAN begins with the title piece, a first-person narrative by an advocate of spiritual selfishness, and winds its way through fifteen other examples of my art in this field, culminating in a section of interior monologues which features twelve different thinkers who successively elaborate on their likes and dislikes from a similar ideological standpoint, thereby establishing a unity of mind which transcends their phenomenal separatenesses.  In between these two extremes there are varying amounts of unity and disunity between the characters, but all are caught in the throes of a vigorous philosophical debate.  For here, as in other kindred works, action is subordinate to thought, whether we are dealing with a drive to the cinema, a couple watching television, reflections on a soapbox orator, a clandestine affair, or the vicissitudes of a revolutionary politician.  Sometimes the characters have names, sometimes not.  Sometimes they are a fairly transparent projection of me, at other times a degree of fictional objectivity has gone into their fashioning.  Whatever the case, A SELFISH MAN, dating from 1983, bears ample witness to this philosopher-artist's search for literary perfection through thought.

 

19. A TRUE EXTREMISM: This collection of fifteen short-prose pieces puts my ideological philosophy through a literary prism, as we explore a variety of interrelated themes from a loosely fictional standpoint.  In fact politics, whether associated with a correlative mode of sexuality or not, also figures quite prominently here, though usually in connection with Social Transcendentalism, which is both political and more than political.  Those especially interested in philosophy will find the last three titles in this collection particularly intriguing, since they were conceived in a loosely aphoristic vein, the final one being a kind of oblique tribute to Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

 

 

Copyright © 1976-2012 John O'Loughlin