Tag Archives: fyodor dostoyevsky

31. Richard T Kelly in The Independent: Doctor Forrest’s debt to Dostoyevsky

In today’s Independent I write on The Brothers Karamazov for the paper’s Book of a Lifetime slot – an opportunity I’m hugely grateful to have been afforded – and therein I wind my way round to the following remarks:

“The scene I love best… is Ivan’s hallucinated encounter with a shabby aristocratic devil who affably refutes his complex atheism. This might indeed be my favourite passage in literature, one that I stole and re-worked in my novels Crusaders and The Possessions of Doctor Forrest. I confess this freely (I want to be found out), and well-read readers might think it an annoying pseudery. But in my teens I first heard of Dostoyevsky through a minor American novelist whose own name I’ve long forgotten – still, I owe that guy, and I believe in passing on the good word. To me this is what Christians mean by “stewardship”, and as such I pray The Master (by which I mean Dostoyevsky) might approve.”


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13. David Peace commends ‘Doctor Forrest’

David Peace by Naoya Sanuki

David Peace is, of course, the widely and ardently admired author of the ‘Red Riding Quartet’ – 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1983– and of GB84, The Damned United, Tokyo Year Zero and Tokyo Occupied City. Earlier this year he read The Possessions of Doctor Forrest in proof and gave my publisher this quote:

‘THE POSSESSIONS OF DOCTOR FORREST drags the gothic novel kicking and screaming into this new century replete with its own horrors and demons; and confirms Richard T Kelly as one of the most astute and imaginative novelists of his generation.’

Having Peace’s endorsement is an especially precious thing for me, as I think of him as one of the most formidable English writers working today. Part of his passionate fan-base is rooted in the crime-fiction genre, and Peace has a foot in that camp, clearly. But you would dub him a writer of ‘crime stories’ only if you were comfortable calling Dostoyevsky a writer of ‘murder stories’. It would be more to the point to say that corruption and evil are matters that Peace returns to repeatedly, forensically, and not for mere entertainment. He is a stylist of uncommon rigour, with a fearsome ability to dig (or claw) into a mood. No-one is better at evoking states of mental torment. Factual research, expertly incorporated, loans his novels a foursquare density. As Martin Amis once wrote of Norman Mailer, Peace’s ‘presence on the page’ fills one with disquiet.
I think it was Peace himself, interviewed for GB84, who coined the expression ‘occult history’ to thumbnail his approach to his true-life material. The excellent Guardian journalist and author Andy Beckett, reviewing GB84 for the London Review of Books, wrote of Peace’s inimitable style as ‘political gothic.’ I can’t imagine any sensible reader who would hear these two luminous phrases and not be drawn to uncover the enthralling writings and the extraordinary writer so described.

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2. Baudelaire’s satanic majesty

Baudelaire, 1864

One of the main characters in Doctor Forrest, a young woman called Eloise Keaton, is a hardcore devotee of French poetry and of Charles Baudelaire in particular, above all his immortal/immemorial collection Les Fleurs du Mal. The book is, one might say, a sort of Bible to her. As, I must admit, it was to me at an impressionable age, in the 1983 dual language edition with renderings into English by the wonderful American poet/translator Richard Howard. You can read some of the translations here.
I was first guided to Baudelaire by good literary influence – not poetry but fiction, ‘Black Venus’ by Angela Carter, the title-story of a volume of tales by her, this one about Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s shady muse. (My feelings on learning the edgier elements of Baudelaire’s biography were akin to those recently voiced in respect of his own discoveries by the poet David Harsent in the Guardian: “I was rather taken with the fact that being a poet could also involve having a mulatto mistress and catching the clap…”) Around that time I also picked up on the legend that Baudelaire was a huge admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, and not just the famous ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ but also the poetry, which was rumoured to offer a new frisson in French.
I imagine young readers will always seek out Baudelaire in search of what is, in great-poetry terms, the red meat of sensation. His work has a luxurious, alluring darkness and corruption. George Steiner once wrote of Dostoyevsky that by contrast with Tolstoy’s Olympian vitality he was ‘the sum of energies charged with illness and possession.’ That fits Baudelaire too.
To me the finest re-statement of the Baudelairean aesthetic is put in the mouth of Madame de Sade berating her mother in the 1965 play by Yukio Mishima: ‘You and your kind when you see a rose say ‘How pretty!’ And when you see a snake you say ‘How disgusting!’ You know nothing of the world where the rose and the snake are intimates and at night exchange shapes, the snake’s cheeks turning red and the rose putting forth shining scales…’
More of Mishima and snakes to come, watch this space. Meantime, this is probably my favourite poem of Baudelaire’s, and it is also much admired by Dr Robert Forrest.

Le Revenant
Comme les anges à l’oeil fauve,
Je reviendrai dans ton alcôve
Et vers toi glisserai sans bruit
Avec les ombres de la nuit;
Et je te donnerai, ma brune,
Des baisers froids comme la lune
Et des caresses de serpent
Autour d’une fosse rampant.
Quand viendra le matin livide,
Tu trouveras ma place vide,
Où jusqu’au soir il fera froid.
Comme d’autres par la tendresse,
Sur ta vie et sur ta jeunesse,
Moi, je veux régner par l’effroi.

Lastly, for audio-visual pleasure, here is Diamanda Galas’s performance of CB’s Litanies de Satan. Don’t play it if you’re alone and the house is dark, for it does rather carry Hell in its wake…

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