la-rochelleQ. The book starts at a very specific time – one year on from that dream – 27th September 2004, 7:07pm. Is there significance to this timing and does the political atmosphere of that time have a part to play in the psychology of the book?

A. There are several things to be said about political events occurring at the time of the novel. Kidnapping was certainly a topical issue (there was the case of the two Italian women, as well as Ken Bigley), and abduction appears as a theme in the book – improvised, perhaps, by the resourceful Ian Edwards from events in the news. What’s more, as HM Government did bugger all to help Ken Bigley, so the two men involved with Laura’s disappearance merely sit chatting about it for quite some time, refreshing themselves with beers and spirits. I think the Epilogue has something more serious to say about politics, namely, that it can be difficult to compare the political and the personal, since expenditure unjustified in political affairs may indeed be justified in the personal case, the individual being infinitely precious.

I ought to mention another political element to the book, which is the narrator’s taste for images of heroic violence and last stands (from which may derive the book’s title, incidentally).  This taste worries him – as it probably should. Here, the political and the personal do seem to be intertwined, and he is criticised (by a German scientist) for possessing a Germanic psychology, of the Götterdämmerung kind.

I don’t know if any reader would feel inclined to compare the narrator with the Prime Minister in office at the time the book is set, whose enthusiasm for righteous violence was of course notable.

Q. What about the neurology aspect of the book, a territory often associated with Ian McEwan in English fiction. How authentic is this, especially the theory of Nietzsche’s condition that Mark proposes?

I know a number of neurologists and they’ve all given their approval. One of them (referring to the scene in the headache clinic) said, ‘He must have been there!’ In fact, this was just based on an anecdote I heard, years ago. The narrator’s wretched behaviour is, however, pure invention.The subject of Nietzsche’s fatal illness, regarding which the narrator has a novel diagnostic theory, derives from conversations I had at one time with a neuroscientist who was working in this area and had done some solid research.

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