Illicit Learning Curves Paperback – 5 Apr 2010
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This is an excellent as well as a brave novel. -- Amazon; Robert Spooner
..everybody can relate in one way or another to the events that unfold.. -- Amazon; the.inquisitor
..an emotional roller-coaster ride of love and lust.. -- Amazon; Alan Bryan
Seldom do I pick up a book that I cannot put down again..compelling..amusing..touching..raw..sordid. A 'must'! -- Amazon; scoblechatelaine
It is a complex and involving work and it is to its credit that I happily read it start to finish in a weekend...
-- Amazon; ifcuk
From the Author
Yes, I am aware of the rules relating to marriage under 18. In the original much longer version, there was some reference to this but when I slashed and burnt my way through 120,000 words (that is, I reduced my original by half) I decided to dump it along with a good deal of other superfluous gubbins. I could have made it important if I'd decided to make an issue of Ellie's Mum refusing permission, but that would then have been a slightly different story. Such a conflict would not, I felt, have assisted the development of the story as I saw it.
This is because Mike and Ellie have, in effect, eloped and are living together; they are, as the kids used to say at the time, `an item', married or not. It's how their relationship unfolds that's of interest (to me) rather than the technicalities of marriage.
I do glance at the issue in the telephone conversation Ellie has with her Mum when she asks whether she will make trouble for them, but that's it. Writer's licence, I suppose.Having said that, I agree that the marriage IS important for a number of thematic reasons.
It's a statement of serious intent by Mike (especially) and the letter he writes on his wedding night is then `seen' by us much later, thus pointing up the distance we have travelled. (All very Thomas Hardy of course!) Further and very importantly, the marriage is arranged entirely by Mike without Ellie's knowledge - an early indication of problems to come, perhaps. Romantic or controllingly presumptuous?
We see in the closing chapters that neither party seeks to dissolve the marriage and it was my intention that readers would question this rather odd stance, particularly where Ellie is concerned, bearing in mind that she has several other partners after she walks out on Mike. (Although I hope that we can see that she walks away because she cannot face him, or herself, and also because she believes her action will be less painful to him than the truth. She walks away because she does love him, not because she doesn't. This is a concept I couldn't come to terms with as a younger man, but I see it now, reluctantly.)
Nevertheless, in the end, it is Ellie who `catches up', grows up and makes the conciliatory move, referring frequently in her letter to the marriage which continues to exist but has not existed in any meaningful sense for all those years. Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed at all - like the pebbles on the beach.
Looked at another way, I think I was interested in what makes `love' and how it might endure even when it has no right to do so or when, apparently, it has been abandoned. Thus, the relationship is unquestionably wrong at the outset - adulterous and ultra vires (one of the last taboos, in fact) but even so, it lives and breathes. By removing the protagonists from the `real' world and parking them on a beach or a cliff (it's actually based on Branscombe in Devon, just west of Beer - visit and you'd see that the places are as described) I sought to put their mutual attraction under the microscope and under pressure.
Yes, they marry but that's not dwelt on for long (Hardy again!) and indeed, the ceremony itself is all rather tongue-in-cheek. There is a greater focus on the consummation in the meadow, the evening on the beach, the letter already mentioned and so on.
Now, the reader may be tricked into thinking that the relationship is primarily based on physical attraction: there is, after all, a good deal of sex-talk. Those who find the sex-talk and associated sequences unpalatable are, I would respectfully suggest, missing the point. I was deliberately being controversial; asserting that f*cking for f4*king's sake can be - often is - what motivates some people most of the time and, even more difficult to swallow - that marriage may just be a way of regularising and legitimising f*cking, although `Society', especially polite society, wants to gloss it differently. The Church has tidied it up. I concede that this is not a popular or comfortable point of view.
But eventually here we see that although the sex is crucial, it's not the whole or, indeed, the final story, or at least, I hope we do. Old Nibber's story, incidentally, points the way, showing both the futility of illicit love and the futility of parting from it. We all live in paradox and contradiction.
I was also interested in the whole business of `Time' and landscape (yet more Hardy already!) and the way in which human dramas might be played out against an unchanging landscape (so, references to Dartmoor and the penumbral zone of the beach) and within a tight human time-frame. Human beings live their own significant personal dramas; but in the wider sense they are, as Ellie says (somewhat unwittingly, perhaps) just `specks in the plastic dust-pan of Time' (p.210).
There are sequences in the book where Time is of the essence, particularly at the beginning but later I deliberately tried to remove it (and specific landscape markers) almost entirely...but, of course, none of us can cheat the clock and so for both characters the outside world (events = time) must re-assert itself.
This is nowhere more evident than when the bickering argument about Ellie's future is suddenly interrupted by news of Mike's mother's impending demise. (I've always liked that Shakespearian thing of the knocking at the gates when Macbeth is wielding the dagger; in ILC it's the Police thumping on the door while Mike and Ellie are at it like daggers in Emma's flat.)
I also played around with Time using "The Owl and the Pussycat" motif and its `year and a day' idea. Further, I think the notion of the `land where the bong tree grows' works well as a thematic metaphor: it sounds childishly appealing; it seems attainable and yet it is in some ways unrecognisable and constrained by a limit of 366 days. Again, it is Ellie who identifies the issue (p.312) when she says, "I suppose if we'd listened to the words properly, we'd have realised it wasn't for ever."
Finally in this regard, I've always liked the idea that we move in circles; that we don't learn from the past and that somehow we end up where we started. Time is a continuum but maybe it's in the form of a spiral. So, just for an example, you may have noticed echoes of page 3 on page 315.
The least appealing character in the novel is Brian Shepherd (whose surname ought to be Wolfe) the religious hypocrite, voyeur and rapist. Once more, I suppose I owe a nod to Hardy who was equally scathing about those who bang the Christianity drum but have no compassion. But Brian The Perv is not, of course, the only one with a darker side. The Book `Beasts' suggests (I hope) that blackness, hypocrisy and dissembling lurk within us all, Mike and Ellie included. Both of them ponder on what forces drive them and the extent to which we all justify, to others and ourselves, our more questionable actions in life. Perhaps the only person to emerge unscathed is poor Barbara who enlists our sympathy when Mike rejects her for being too old and too fat.
The novel has had various forms and titles since 2005, one of which was "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" (see W.B.Yeats, "The Second Coming") but in the end I decided that this business of the `darker side' was not really the central issue, so I dumped that title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
The story is told from all of the different angles involved, so at different times you can have a feel for what is "going-on" within each of the characters, and to see things from everybody's perspective. At times, Ellie tells her reflections on events that have happened, and at other times, you see the world through somebody else's eyes.
For me, I think that everybody can relate in one way or another to the events that unfold and those that can't, almost certainly know somebody who has been affected by at least one of the controversial issues explored here.
So, thank you to Ellie and Mike for letting me learn from, laugh with and cry with them during their fascinating story.
This is an excellent as well as a brave debut. Warren holds a mirror up to religious hypocrisy, small-minded bigotry and the ensuing struggles that face people who defy conventional society's strictures. It will not be to everyone's taste, but it is refreshing to read a novel where the author has the 'cojones' to cajole his readership into thinking about how things are for his characters, rather than how they should be. I look forward to reading more of Keith Warren's work in the future.
It is a complex and involving work, and it is to its credit that I happily read it start to finish in a weekend, and most books take two or three weeks of effort these days. It starts with a humour akin to an upmarket Wilt, moves to a courtroom drama that would be acclaimed if it were a BBC midweek TV series, and thence on to a love - no relationship - story that at first looks as if it will be predictable. However it is the nature of human existence that is the predictable aspect, and this story has not so much a number of twists but more a number of deviations from the more usual A to B route.
I enjoyed and appreciated the book. The characters and situations are well drawn and observed, and although they are not all likeable, they are real. A satisfying read.