What is it that’s so fascinating about jungles? Within the atmospheric surroundings of the Edinburgh Book Festival’s Spiegeltent, chair Stuart Kelly suggested that the key similarity between Martin MacInnes’ debut novel Infinite Ground and Ned Beauman’s latest work, Madness is Better Than Defeat, was their preoccupation with the jungle as a elemental source of uncanny knowledge. While this proved to be a somewhat superficial observation, as both authors made it clear that the jungles and forests featured in their work hold no special meaning, what did become apparent was that both MacInnes and Beauman like to use their fiction to push at the boundaries of the real.
MacInnes’ reading took us to the heart of the confusion and paranoia that pervades Infinite Ground, the story of a old detective tracking down a man who has vanished without a trace. The novel follows the inspector through sweltering city streets, unnerving office blocks and ominous forests as he attempts to find the missing man, with an array of bewildering encounters also forcing him to confront his own demons.
Beauman’s reading from Madness is Better Than Defeat brought to life the book’s exotic setting with a dizzying rush of prose, drawing us into a madcap 1930s adventure featuring CIA agents and film-makers trying to find a lost Mayan temple.
Despite having a similar interest in the weird and uncanny, it transpired that the two authors have very different influences. First and foremost for MacInnes is actually nature writing, with the behaviour of microbes and the process of organic decay having been major inspirations behind his unusual detective story. Beauman, meanwhile, credited a mixture of Graham Greene and grindhouse cinema, with his love of gory action films apparently fuelling the writing of his latest work.
An interesting conversation towards the end of the event touched upon the authors’ desire to maintain an emotional core in the midst of their cerebral and sometimes surreal storytelling, but sadly this was only a brief diversion into the difficulties of writing such ambitious fiction. Kelly chose to pursue a more conventional line of questioning, with the strange mechanics of Infinite Ground and Madness is Better Than Defeat left, for the most part, tantalisingly out of view. Nevertheless, the audience was treated to a fascinating insight into the working processes of these refreshingly irreverent young writers.
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