(The following is a written transcript of the interview held between author Ernest Proust and interviewer Michael Rice, which took place at the Hotel Du Royal, Paris, on August 14th, 2017)

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to grant us this interview today.

Proust:
It’s fine.

Interviewer:
Really, we’re delighted to be given this opportunity. It’s widely known that you are unfailingly protective of your privacy.

Proust:
I’m sorry… is that a question?

Interviewer:
No, Mr. Proust, it’s an observation. Anyway, let’s get going. Mr. Proust, you’re known as one of the foremost voices in modern fiction. Part of this is attributable to what some call the ‘nihilistic lens’ through which your characters encounter the world. Taking Jermaine Grasse – the protagonist of your new book ‘You Only Sleep with Death at Dawn’ – as an example, would you say that you, as a person as well as an author, see the world similarly?

Proust:
Maybe. All characters in all novels are, quite obviously, an extension of an author’s mind at any given time, and if they appear to relay a sentiment that society attributes to a set paradigm, then yes, I’d say I see the world in a similar way to the characters I create.

Interviewer:
So, you regard yourself as a nihilist?

Proust:
(Following a silence) I regard myself as a human being, which means I’m the living product of innumerable biological sequences forming the ever-changing skin of reality.

Interviewer:
So, you believe that we’re biologically determined?

Proust:
It’s not important what I believe. What matters is truth.

Interviewer:
Well, what is ‘truth’ then?

Proust:
If truth is anything, its existence minus the labels we use to dissect it so that our minds can digest it.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, moving away from matters of the mind and onto your new book –

Proust:
(Waving his hands) Mr. Rice, I apologize, but do we need to discuss my book now?

Interviewer:
I’m not sure what you mean.

Proust:
As in not discuss the book? Avoid talking about its content, narrative, characters, etc.?

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, most authors would be delighted to have a platform to discuss and market their wares!

Proust:
I know that, Mr. Rice. However, in context of how the book is selling, and without alluding to any perceived arrogance on my behalf, I don’t believe the book needs to be ‘punted’ by me in any way. The reason I’m asking not to discuss it is simple: if a writer has to pore over his material in a short-hand way, what’s the point of reading what they produced? I wrote the book for a reason – to be read and digested by the reader – not for me to sit here and give my view on how everything panned out.

Interviewer:
Ok, Mr. Proust, point taken. Just don’t blame me when your publishing house comes round with a guillotine, alright?

Proust:
(Laughs)

Interviewer:
Moving on, who or what do you consider to be your greatest influences?

Proust:
Anything that makes a spark as it rubs against the grain. In terms of writers, this includes David Mitchell, Rabelais, and, for argument’s sake, Zola. Away from words, I was pronouncedly influenced by the use of psychedelics in my adolescence, both via the philosophies they imparted upon my parents who advocated their use, as well as my own experiences. A final nod has to be reserved for heartbreak, as I believe grief is the most influential of all catalysts in the creative process.

Interviewer:
In respect to grief, could you elaborate?

Proust:
Right now… no, as my own grief is only translatable through the novels I write. As per grief in general, it’s like a lump of vegetable matter buried in one’s innermost depths, which over time metamorphoses into a diamond whose value can only be described through metaphor.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, it’s been speculated in the media that you are married to a woman who can’t read the language your books are written in.

Proust:
Well, congratulations media! I trust they’re proud they got that one right.

Interviewer:
So, she cannot critique your work unless it’s translated?

Proust:
In a purely literary sense, yes, she can’t critique my work. She does, however, possess other skills that have a pronounced influence on the content and form of my novels.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, when did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Proust:
The first time I walked into a bank.

Interviewer:
Walked into a bank!?

Proust:
From a young age, my parents instilled in me the quite correct notion that money is an illusion, a farce built upon the ignorance of the masses. To walk into a temple that worships such a powerful illusion made me sick to my stomach, and from that moment I knew all I wanted to do was write – not in an attempt to wreck the illusion, but to somehow validate my own existence with something tangible, something ‘real,’ as opposed to the propaganda money uses to swindle the average mind.

Interviewer:
But aren’t the value of words on a page relative to those on a note?

Proust:
(Laughs) That’s a good question, one – to my mind anyway – that can only be answered with a story, a metaphorical parable that no amount of notes or zeroes can come close to satisfying.

Interviewer:
(Laughs) Mr. Proust, what’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited?

Proust:
I assume you’re asking about a place on a map?
(Interviewer nods)
The most interesting place… I don’t know… Cambodia, perhaps? All the places I’ve been to have their own charm – a unique essence – which is entirely incomparable. I’ll say Cambodia because of how ‘diluted’ its psyche is. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge really did a number there, leaving it high and dry in terms of nearly everything. It’s rebuilding now, but whilst there you cannot help but feel that everything’s just a murky Band-Aid covering up a far greater malignant force at play.

Interviewer:
How long were you there for?

Proust:
Six days. But it only takes minutes in the swill of Phnom Penh to plug into what I’m describing. I fell in love with the place, actually. In terms of writing, I cannot think of a better place to live, at least in respect to the creativity that thrives amidst such conflict.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, could you give our readers some insight into how you work? When you work, how you work, and anything else relating to your creative process?

Proust:
I will say that it’s a lot easier now than when I started writing!

Interviewer:
Which means?

Proust:
When I first started writing seriously, I was so poor I could sharpen pencils on my shoulder blades! That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not all that far-fetched. Back then I worked as a taxi driver – one of the best possible ways to pick up story ideas. The problem was I kept getting fucked over, each employer I took up with swindling me any way they could. I wasn’t in it for the money, but still, a person’s got to eat. Anyway, I took everything in my stride, believing each bad experience would find its inversely proportional twin come the future. So I worked the midnight shift, doing cocaine I scored off an Albanian for helping him with his English assignments. Each time I met someone interesting, I’d scribble down what they said, and after getting home at eight in the morning, I’d take two hours – without fail – to craft my scrawl into something, whether it be a short-story, a screenplay, the seeds of a novel, whatever.

Interviewer:
Well Mr. Proust, with your last three works having gone to number one on the New York Times Bestsellers List, some would say your hard work has paid off.

Proust:
(Shrugs and shakes his head) Yes… and no. Like I said, I’m not after the money, and if I haven’t mentioned the fact that I have absolutely no interest in fame already, let me do so now. You know, I don’t think any ‘real author’ ever feels that they’ve done anything significant. I mean, does the fact that a segment of society regards one’s work as something of worth mean that he or she has achieved the ‘goal’ they set out for when they stared writing? I don’t know, to tell you the truth. The fact is that me, personally, I cannot do anything but write, and if my work somehow resonates with people, fine, but if not, that’s fine too.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, some would say you’re too humble. Your last three books have sold almost as many copies as Beckett Twin’s Compass and Mask trilogy.

Proust:
And?

Interviewer:
And!? Mr. Proust, that’s a modern literary achievement, dare I say on a scale the Information Age has scarcely witnessed!

Proust:
Mr. Rice, pardon my ignorance, but that means nothing to me. Sure, I now have the means to live where I want, eat what I want, sleep with whomever I want, but none of that interests me. Just the idea of that terrifies me, in fact, because if I ever got sucked into that illusion, it’d drain me of all the honest creative power I have.

Interviewer:
What does satisfy you then?

Proust:
Simple recognition of the things that make up everyday life. We experience them so freely and totally as children, but upon becoming adults it’s as if the light they once brought us recedes further and further away as our boats of consciousness sail off into uncertainty. Thinking about it now, maybe that’s all that writers are trying to achieve: create a reflexive childhood as adults to take on a world that, without mythology, would in most instances resemble hell.

Interviewer:
You regard life to be a kind of hell?

Proust:
Without mythology… absolutely! I mean, what do we actually have as citizens of the world in the twenty-first century? A consumer culture that’s raping our planet, stealing our intuitions, and nullifying our humanity; a worldwide system of governance rigged to suit the needs of those who kowtow to the status quo; an overriding feeling of helplessness, one that grows in daily accordance with how the state of the world is reported via the media… if that’s not hell, what is? All we have is mythology – stories to remove us from ‘that’ – to counterbalance and add a semblance of wonder to our essentially meaningless lives.

Interviewer:
You don’t consider mythology to be a form of… denial?

Proust:
(Smirks) I see where you’re coming from, but I wouldn’t regard mythology to be a form of denial. If it were, then everything would have to be considered denial, as no experience – nor the reportage of it – can be recreated without taking some artistic liberties. Denial… that’s a loaded term. If anything, I’d say mythology is needed to appease the pain that has taken over the world, well with the rich having turned a blind eye to the poor while the warmongers and Armageddon prophets profit off the misery of the rest.

Interviewer:
That sounds kind of… gloomy, don’t you think?

Proust:
Who ever said reality was easy to look in the eye? Some may see it as gloomy, but I see it as salvation. You see, when the true nature of our lives is revealed – once we understand our place in the whole – we finally know what we want, which in turn gives us the spark of life that makes it all worth it. All reality does is give us a context for this to happen, and if someone were to deny reality, they would be minus that context, which to my mind would be as hellish as anything I could consider.

Interviewer:
Mr. Proust, a final question. If there is one thing you could experience – be it possible or not – what would it be?

Proust:
(Laughs) Maybe go back in time and swap brains with my first love, just for a day. Just to see what she thought and meant by all she said to me then, the very words that still ring so clearly in my heart and mind today.

Interviewer
Mr. Proust, thank you for your time.

Proust
Don’t mention it.

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