Friday 19 October 2012

Book Post - Beirut And The Disposable Character

   Lynch called across to Leila. ‘Where’s Deir Na’ee?’
   She uncurled and came to him, looking over his shoulder at the screen, her blouse opening to show the warm brown mound of her breast. ‘Deir Na’ee? The lonely home? Sounds like something up in the Bekaa. Never heard of it. Try Googling it. Might be a village somewhere.’
   ‘And “Spike”?’
   She paused, then turned to regain her place on the sofa. ‘No idea, habibi. I’m not a phone book.’
   Lynch chuckled, the search phrase ‘Deir Na’ee’ for some reason returning the Irish poem A bhonnán bhuí, The Yellow Bittern. He read it out loud, the Irish words coming back to him from the mists of distant childhood, the disinfectant reek of the Sisters of Charity’s classroom. ‘A bhonnán bhuí, is é mo léan do luí, Is do chnámha sínte tar éis do ghrinn, Is chan easba bidh ach díobháil dí, a d'fhág i do luí thú ar chúl do chinn.
   Leila was laughing at him. ‘What are you saying?’
   ‘It’s Irish. Deir Na’ee gets that in Google. Christ alone knows why.’
   ‘That is not a language. It sounds like dogs fighting.’
   ‘Póg mo thóin.’
   From Beirut - An Explosive Thriller

Today brings a treat - a guest post and quizzing from Micheline Hazou, patroness of genteel blog MichCafé, friend and Beirut wandering companion as well as beta reader of Beirut – An Explosive Thriller...

It is quite exciting to be a beta reader. It is also something I take very seriously.

I had the privilege to beta-read Alexander McNabb’s first novel, Olives – A Violent Romance. I was even more flattered to be offered the chance to beta-read Beirut – An Explosive Thriller a couple of months ago.

It’s not as easy as it seems, because you often get sucked up in the story and forget to keep an eye out for anything that might be wrong, from proofreading to translations and anything you don’t quite like. So I had to re-read many a chapter with that in mind.

From the first few pages of Beirut I felt Alex had come into his own. I got caught up in the “explosive” thriller and rediscovered the main character, Gerald Lynch, in another light. Whereas he had seemed pompous, uptight and unlikeable in Olives, here he is chasing the bad guys with a conscience and sexy on top of it.

As with Olives, I was drawn by the local female character in the book. I can identify with them. And I wonder why they are so disposable. As most of you have read Olives by now, you must know Aisha Dajani’s fate. But Leila Medawar? Why, Alex?

As described in the book, Leila Medawar is the “student activist, dissident, blogger and poet to the leftist anti-sectarian intelligentsia. Born into wealth and privilege she was heart-rendingly idealistic… beautiful dark haired Leila, lover of freedom, equality and British spies. Well, spy.”

Without giving too much away, here are a few questions I would like to ask about Leila Medawar, Gerald Lynch’s lover:

I like Leila Medawar. She humanizes Lynch. Why is she so disposable?
That's partly why she's there. And partly it seals her fate. It's odd but I seem to have this habit of killing the characters I love the most, from the delicious Kylie in my first book, Space, through to a number of characters in Olives, Beirut and, yes, Shemlan.

I often recall an incident involving The Niece From Hell. We were on a walk along the Thames when I was pulled up by the realisation I recognised a particular bench on the towpath. ‘Wow,’ I exclaimed. ‘I killed a guy on this bench!’

The niece glanced carelessly at the bench and shrugged. ‘Whatever.’

I know I am involved in murdering a number of attractive Arab women, but don't take that personally - I'm an equal opportunities killer. I do for a number of occidental men in my books too. And some of them are quite ugly.

On the bright side, it's probably a good thing I'm getting this stuff out of my system. And anyway, there are a thousand and one Leilas...

I sound like I’m gabbling guiltily. I probably am.

How come she knew he was in intelligence?
It's how he met her - when on a surveillance job involving a student protest. In fact, that’s not mentioned until much later in the book in the 'beta' MS but part of the feedback from readers made me bring that history right up front.

Lynch isn't really very good at observing some of the traditional modalities of intelligence, he's far too Arabised for that. Leila is very much into his 'home life'. They live a cocooned existence together - she has his key, they keep their relationship secret (she leaves the room when Palmer comes from the embassy with Lynch's ticket because they have agreed discretion is the way to go for both of them) and Lynch knows who she is. She trusts him not to spy on her and he, I rather think, trusts her not to use her relationship with him in her activities.

Where is Leila’s family? How is it that she was able to live with Lynch, and then in the flat he provided her?
She doesn't actually live with him, just has a key and comes around a lot. He was hoping the flat in Hamra would be a bolthole for them both but was surprised by the strength of her reaction to the news he would be shacking up with another spy type.

Her family is living in Dubai, as it happens - but she's got away with going back to Beirut to study at AUB. That gives her independence beyond reason - and the freedom to go out with a man over twice her age.

And no, it's not one of my secret fantasies sneaking into a book. There's a certain journalist living in Ain Mreisse who might be influencing some of Lynch's lifestyle...

What is the story of the Orrefors tumbler?
I've long been a huge fan of Orrefors glass and have a number of those beautiful pieces with the blue teardrop.  It just seemed natural that it should sneak into the book - and tells us that Leila's moneyed, incidentally. That stuff's hideous expensive.

Leila being particular about how she takes her whisky is a mannerism I stole from a rather lovely Lebanese friend...

I also let my personal preferences sneak in with the Lamiable champagne later in the book, which is a stunning single grower extra brut - a hard champagne to make well as it has little or no 'dosage' and is therefore incredibly dry. I have a nice chap called Charles who ships it to me in the UK. One has a literary agent and a vintner, don't you know...

Why the choice of Proust? And which of his works was she reading? 
Remembrance of things past of course, silly! Probably The Prisoner, a reflection of Lynch’s ardour for her mixed with a desire to control her, perhaps why he offers her the flat in Hamra. Leila’s not Albertine, of course – but she is enjoying casting herself in the role.

Leila is possibly reading it because she likes Proust, or because she likes to be seen to be liking Proust – that’s a very Lebanese dilemma. She was reading it in the original French because, of course, she speaks French like a native. And she likes to tell friends she finds the Moncrieff translation sloppy.

Why did Lynch only try calling her? Why didn’t he go over to see her? And why didn’t she have protection?
He was scared of finding some ape from AUB in her bed. He was also rather busy saving the world and flying to and from Europe. He talked to the concierge, too, which just confirms his worst fears.
Lynch had checked with the concierge and yes, she moved in to the flat in Hamra. Yes, she had indeed taken male company, the old crone told Lynch, laughing dirtily and pocketing the fifty thousand lire tip.
There was no protection - Lynch operates as a lone wolf most of the time, he's not often part of the 'framework', but a maverick operator Channing uses for the messy stuff. His approach to intelligence is 'go local, go low-key' rather than bringing in the Keystone cops every time. It's one reason why he prefers to use a servees rather than an embassy car.

Part of Lynch would also let her cool her heels, perhaps even be angry at her and take an 'Youse know what? F youse too' approach to her flouncing off like that. And yet she's under his skin. Not quite as much as Michel gets under hers, though...

Does Lynch fall in love again in Shemlan (please say yes…).
No, but Shemlan is very much a love story – although not a very straightforward one.

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1 comment:

Mich said...

Love the answers... I can't wait for "Shemlan" now. Thanks for having me on the Souks :-)

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