A.L. Kennedy’s The Blue Book: Fucks Body & Mind

The Blue Book CoverThe Blue Book
by A.L. Kennedy
Little A  / New Harvest, March 2013
352 pages / $25  Buy from Amazon







In a New Yorker essay titled, “Everything Is Fiction,” Irish author Keith Ridgway persuasively argues that, well, everything is fiction:

I love getting lectures about the triviality of fiction, the triviality of making things up. As if that wasn’t what all of us do, all day long, all life long. Fiction gives us everything. It gives us our memories, our understanding, our insight, our lives. We use it to invent ourselves and others. We use it to feel change and sadness and hope and love and to tell each other about ourselves. And we all, it turns out, know how to do it.

Transparency is ironically pivotal to A.L. Kennedy’s latest novel, The Blue Book, a work riddled with deception. Its two main characters, Beth and Arthur, are scam artists guilty of conning people into believing they can contact the dead. As if to counterbalance the lies, codes, games, and fraud laced throughout the novel, Kennedy tells readers from the outset—in a direct address—that, here, this is a book, “your book.” She goes on to write, “It moves for you, this book, and it will always show you all it can.” The wild, wonderful sense follows that nothing is held back—not by the characters or by Kennedy. Kennedy is like a magician revealing the how of her tricks, but also insisting on the why and the nonetheless magic:

All fucking stories: what makes us nice, what makes us talk, what lets us recognize ourselves, touch others, be touched ourselves, trust loves—the fucking stories.

And they’re what works the magic: the hard-core, bone-deep, fingers in your pages and wearing your skin and fucking you magic—that magic. Inside and out.

Throughout this novel, Kennedy ousts artifice, in her characters, in the story, and in terms of the writing and the reading of fiction. Thus Kennedy often inserts herself into the text and intimately addresses readers with a hair-raising knowingness, at times to highlight the mechanics of storytelling and invention, but mostly to show the universality, complexity, duplicity, and also the best (if not misguided) intentions of human nature—a risk that largely pays off. The danger, of course, is that some readers will balk at the presumption and resist such specific portrayal of the “you”:

And your excellent heart has been broken and since then you haven’t been the same. You came back from your troubles in some ways stronger and you don’t go on about it—you’ve had courage that no one can fully appreciate—but you were injured deeply. You can’t say you weren’t. You hope this has made you more patient, generous, but you’re aware that you can also be bitter and self-punishing.

However, the close of the novel delivers startling and breathing-grabbing revelations, one of which is safe to tell here: The direct address isn’t coming from Kennedy and isn’t intended for us, the reader (more marvelous mind-fucks).

In these three hundred plus pages, Kennedy shows us how we invent ourselves and others. How we fuck with ourselves and others, both body and mind. (The erotic writing here is mesmerizing.) How we ceaselessly commit pretend. Through stream of consciousness, Kennedy reveals as best as possible the interior lives of her main characters, Beth and Arthur—as best as possible because even Kennedy’s characters do not fully know themselves. None of us do. We live such interior lives, with more going on beneath the surface than others can ever know or imagine. Too often, we cannot even read the messy workings of our own minds and hearts. Maybe it’s that we cannot face the full truth of ourselves. We can only stab at the best stories about ourselves and others to believe in and perpetuate. The Blue Book is above all else a startling love story between Beth and Arthur. It is also a love story between A.L. Kennedy and her readers. In prose that is achingly sharp and with glorious skill, Kennedy writes us as bare as bare can be. To quote from The Blue Book, Kennedy is, As a magician—as someone who offers wonders.


Ethel Rohan‘s second story collection, Goodnight Nobody is forthcoming in September from Queen’s Ferry Press.

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