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John Boyne: ‘People criticized my book when they hadn’t read it’ | Fiction

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John Boyne: ‘People criticized my book when they hadn’t read it’ |  Fiction

F.From the garden table where we sit to chat, I have a good view of John Boyne’s “ego room,” the pale green, light-filled annex that he comes to at 8.30 every morning, seven days a week. week, to write: and that is full of global editions of the 21 books that he has produced during the last two decades. Both the space and the name it has been given are instructive, revealing: the label mocks itself with humor, the shelves are a proud reminder of the work it has created; sanctuary and exhibition at the same time. And its list of funds, which includes the best-selling junior novel, The boy in the striped pajamas, will soon join a new adult novel, The echo chamber.

In early 2019, the house, in a quiet southern Dublin suburb, won Ireland’s House of Celebrities of the Year; his “proudest achievement to date,” he jokes. A few months later, when he published his youth novel My brother’s name It’s jessicaAs seen through the eyes of a child experiencing the transition of his brother, his life took a different direction, significantly less pleasant. The online furor, which accused Boyne of confusing and decentering the novel’s trans character, and writing too far beyond his own experience, snowballed into newspaper commentary and calls for a boycott. Even more alarming, it also led to online harassment, in the form of a man who, over the course of 15 months, relentlessly and menacingly tweeted about Boyne, posting close-up photographs of his home and prompting the writer to involve lawyers and renew. the safety of your home.

It also left him, he tells me, with depression. “To be honest,” he says, “I always liked and approved of them; He hadn’t really bothered anyone in the wrong way. And when that book came out, I suddenly found myself in the middle of an online drama, a lot [of it created] by people who had not actually read the book and who seemed to take advantage of the fact that they were criticizing a book they had not read. “He had felt, he insists, that he was writing” from a place of what I thought was empathy and compassion “His intention had been to support trans teens. The fact that opponents of the book did not see him that way was, as is evident in how he talks about it even now, a source of deep anguish.” I was really shocked and scared. It was very, very upsetting to be so misrepresented by people online, and to be insulted and receive death threats. And to be depicted as someone who is a bigot, or a hater in some way … That’s the absolute opposite of what I am as a person and what I am as a writer. “

But the test also paid off. The echo chamber introduces us to the Cleverley family: Father George, a famous television presenter and BBC institution; his wife, Beverley, a romance novelist whose early promise has been somewhat dissipated by her reliance on ghostwriters; and her three older children, Nelson, Elizabeth, and Achilles. As the character’s name Beverley Cleverley suggests, the novel is written in comic mode; there is also a professional sexy cartoon of Strictly come dance and his pet, the tortoise, named after a Ukrainian folk hero, but a darker story emerges among his ridiculous pieces.

The family spends much of their time attending to their characters on social media, usually at the expense of their relationships in real life; But when George tweets a performative statement of support for a trans woman he knows (this, in itself, is ambiguous, because their encounter is pointed and mutually unsatisfying), he becomes enraged at what he comes to see as the aggressive world of waking up. politics. The subsequent attacks, and his own awkward insistence on his liberal credentials, ruined his life and include particularly vicious and violent criticism of his daughter in disguise, who anonymously tweets bile to anyone with a sufficient following to generate likes, clicks. and the attention you crave.

Boyne explains that he wanted to explore the type of behavior his Twitter stalker exemplified and understand his own reaction to it. He seems at the same time concerned, puzzled, and angry at online trolls, acknowledging that at the heart of his behavior is need. “I think that is what people want to import. They want to feel that their voice matters in the world. And that is why some people get hooked on a topic and it becomes their topic. And for this they use social networks, be it for politics, for trans issues, for climate change, whatever it is; They choose a theme, and they just go to hell for the leather. I mean, there is a reason that Twitter was the platform of choice for Donald Trump. It’s a place where you can be horrible and they don’t call you much. “

Mail-JessicaHe says, he received numerous private messages of support “from the Nobel Prize winners and below,” but was disturbed by the attacks of those he considers to be leaning on their problems: “I found it more disturbing than the crazy ones … I thought that that was just to say, you know, and what have I done to you? But look, those are the people for you. ” He is adamant that he would write My brother’s name is Jessica Again, and equally confident that you will never respond to negativity online again. But it is clear that this is a very specific form of self-imposed silence; in other areas, he is determined to give voice to his experiences.

In February 2021, former rugby coach and teacher John McClean, now 76, was convicted of abusing 23 children at Terenure College, a paid Dublin school run by a Carmelite trust, between 1973 and 1990. ; he was sentenced to eight years in prison. Following a trial that continues to have repercussions in Ireland, Boyne, a former student of Terenure, wrote an article for the Irish Times. He had attended court in support of a friend who had been abused by McClean, although he himself had not; in fact, the teacher had always encouraged him in his literary ambitions, and when Boyne’s first novel came out in 2000, he sent him a copy. But, Boyne wrote in February, he too had been abused in Terenure: severely beaten by a priest, who struck a metal weight on a stick and named it Excalibur; and later, by a lay teacher who bent over him, reached into Boyne’s pants and jerked him off.

The film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pajamass (2008). Photograph: Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Attending McClean’s trial prompted Boyne to testify to the Garda; You can’t say much more about it at this point, because it’s still in your hands. But what was especially striking was the way Boyne wrote about it, going beyond the horrific nature of the abuse itself to ponder the effects it has had on his emotional, romantic and sexual life. Recalling the relationships that did not work out and the breakdown of her marriage, which she describes as the worst thing that ever happened to her, she wrote: “The truth is that I have failed in every romantic relationship I have had. . “In the conversation we have, he speaks frankly about how the loss of her husband, with whom she had been in a relationship for 11 years, has” left a scar inside of me that will never heal, “among other things because it was completely unexpected. for me, him, and how much he longs to have a loving partner with whom to share the life he has made.

It’s the concept of “failing” that feels so poignant. His experiences in school, combined with the fact that homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized until Boyne was in his junior year of college and that by that time the AIDS crisis was in full swing, feels like a lot to deal with. that self-reproach. it’s just too cruel. In other parts of his life, after all, Boyne seems like a measure of success: not just in terms of career, but also in his closeness to family and friends and in the enjoyment of his daily life. “I’m not going to spend the whole day crying about it,” he reassures me. “I work hard. And I really like my life. And maybe you can’t have it all.”

He waits The echo chamber It will provoke a kind of reaction, but you are prepared for it. “I just turned 50 years old. And as much as I don’t like drama, and I don’t like problems, I think it’s important that your work is strong enough to inspire some kind of debate. And the antipathy towards her is not necessarily negative. At the end of this book, I mention Kingsley Amis’s line that if you are not bothering someone with your writing, you are not doing anything right. And it’s not that I set out to annoy people, but I do want my work to be more interesting in that sense than perhaps it was before. I want to think about the world we live in and challenge it. And if that means upsetting some people, well, that’s what literature is supposed to do. “

The Echo Chamber is a publication of Doubleday (£ 16.99) on August 5th. To support the Guardian and the Observer, purchase a copy at guardiannbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.

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