We had the pleasure of welcoming Louise Doughty to Thameside today to discuss her fascinating latest book Black Water, a dissection of the character of a man caught up in the strife in Indonesia, both in the sixties (when there was a Communist coup swiftly followed by a counter-coup, with suspected heavy CIA involvement) and later in the nineties when the Asian tiger market crash led to the emergence of more authoritarian governments in some of the region’s countries.
Louise was asked why she chose a member of the shadowy ‘risk analysis’ industry (a ‘shop front’ behind which many private security firms operated for the benefit of major mining and oil entities and other global actors) as her protagonist. She outlined the genesis of the book; when asked to attend a literary event in Indonesia she had become more au fait with the twentieth century history of this former Dutch colony. It was amazing that the world in general knew so little about the millions massacred after the 1965 coup, something that could possibly be attributed – in Britain anyway – to the fact of it not being one of the British empire’s possessions.
She wanted to write a story with a character who would stand as a metaphor for Indonesia itself; would there be a chance for redemption after appalling acts of barbarism or would the protagonist, like the country, be unable to find peace and forgiveness because of the terrible things seen and endured?
Underneath the story of the coup and counter-coup, existed also the reality of internecine warfare within villages, within language groups, within religious groupings. In times of strife people settled old scores from earlier times, and so the strife carried on through generations.
The American section of the book and the civil rights issues were briefly touched on; the character of Poppa, the black civil rights lawyer and someone who was a truly good human, was introduced as a counterweight to all the morally bankrupt characters who otherwise populated its pages.
Comments on the discussion: They loved the book, found it inspirational. Marvelled at his age and positive attitude. Leanne read out the section on why he jumps, and many
commented on how beautifully he writes; the frustrations faced by him and his carers. We got a bit hi-jacked by Pippa telling us about how she had recently been diagnosed autistic – this went on a bit and of course nobody wanted to interrupt. But many had indirect experiences of autism, and felt the book gave invaluable insight and support.
New member came up at the end to say she had just read our last book (No Surrender) and enjoyed it very much. Like a play, wasn’t it – she had noticed it was divided into ‘scenes’. New problem for dyslexic Em, now that Angela has moved on to another wing and cannot read with her. She went to the chapel to find a quiet place to read, and a lady there helped her. Paul is trying to set up a time for Em, Pauline and Angela to meet in the library for a bit of group time.
The book was chosen after Mark had asked for something ‘from a woman’s point of view…we don’t get much of that in here’.
A universal hit with praise for almost every aspect: characterisation, plot, setting and descriptive power.
‘I thought I’d have to set myself reading targets but I was hooked straightaway’
‘I loved the way the whole book zoned in on Mary’s feelings’
‘You could really feel that squelchy bog-land on the moor’
‘I was watching football but reading it at the same time. That’s how good it was’
James and Richard had compared notes on the wing but James finished first and was careful not to give anything away. ‘When Richard said he though there was something dodgy about Rev Davey, I just had to smile and tell him to keep reading’. Richard was still shocked when he got to the meeting;: ‘Who can you trust if you can’t trust a vicar?’
Lots of admiration of Mary’s adventurousness but also alert unease about the hints of attraction to the monstrous Joss and a sense that her future with Jem might not be completely blissful ‘What’s she going to think when she wakes up and sees him next to her in the morning?’
Lee recommended Rebecca and someone went next door to the library to find it.