Sunday, July 12, 2015

"****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy" by Matthew Selwyn

****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy
by Matthew Selwyn

****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy, is the debut novel by Matthew Selwyn. The author stops by for an interview and to share an excerpt. You can also read my review and enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win a hardcover copy of the book (open internationally).

Reality is overrated. Sex, love, power, life: it's gone digital. Why settle for a girlfriend with cellulite? Why spend every day working a dead-end job? These are the new days, the infinite days: plug in, get connected. Life is porn, porn is life, don't accept anything less than the electric light show that is our digital reality.
At the end of every computer screen, a mind is being formed on the material coughed up by the web that connects us all: this is the story of one of the internet's children, told from his own warped perspective. This is the millennial generation, the Y generation: we're horny, lonely, afraid, and self-confident. This is our story, our reality.
Thrillingly inventive and powerfully engaging, ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy is a timely examination of life and masculinity in the digital age, a study of loneliness and mental decay, and a satire on the consumption of literature of disaffection. Brutally honest and darkly comic, it is a very modern novel about a very modern life.

Now also in hardcover

There’s a problem here. You’re not daft; you see it, you understand my plight. Shit, we all feel it – it’s in every atom of the world around us, each breath we take more suffocating than the last. The churning sickness that is life – the wonderful tangle, the mess of existence. Step right up for the ride of your life, join the bandwagon, come on board. You, me, we’re all in – there is no opt out. That’s our problem; we’re stuck firmly in time, rooted in reality.
* * * *
A gleaming white bullet carries Lex across the Atlantic, off to the land of grubby dollars, drawling yokels, and fake living. It’s all part of the lifestyle, all part of the job. Sex is a global brand, and Lex is a premium commodity. There’s no denying that. No, the world want their fill, and who’s she to deny them? She’s the common body, the anomaly that we all deserve to enjoy.
Some limp dick tossers would be jealous, would be waiting up every night scared that some slab of American meat was slipping Lex the other. But come on now, that’s not my style – I don’t need to tell you that that shit doesn’t touch me. Lex is free as a bird, good luck to her.
That Yank sheen is long gone anyway; money, sex, power, it’s gone global – no one has a monopoly on it anymore. The towering skyscrapers of New York had fallen long before the second plane; we all knew it. The twang of the Yank accent doesn’t give girls that twinge these days, even the dollar sign is looking dated, its day long past. No, America doesn’t have it anymore.
But then nowhere does. We don’t chop the world up by borders anymore, don’t slice peoples and dice continents. It’s all a sweltering mess, a fucking free-for-all. We went global centuries ago, today we’ve gone digital, and digital doesn’t have borders.
See, that’s the thing. Lexi might be thousands of miles away, but she’s everywhere and anywhere I need her. Not even the necessary necessitates the physical these days. The air crackles with waves carrying human connection, linking us to one another, frying with the energy that it carries.
Fuck. That’s liberation. A life without boundaries, borders, constraints. China are welcome to the world, because we’ve all moved on. The war’s changed mediums and no one’s fighting for the soil beneath our feet anymore.
So Lexi’s fine, she’s top. The Yanks can cut her as many looks as they want, but she’s mine, wherever she lays her head. We’re not exclusive, but ownership is a different matter, right?

Praise for the Book
"The kind of novel that can inspire laughter and anxiety with a single sentence ... horrifying, hilarious and evocative." ~ Emily May, #1 Goodreads UK reviewer
"Generation defining." ~ Michael Watson
"There's a talent burning away throughout this work like a slow fuse ... Matthew Selwyn is an emerging major writer." ~ Peter Maughan, author
" ... a well crafted book, a bleak yet thought-provoking portrayal of a character whose very superficiality leaves us eager to find out what horrors lie beneath the surface ... " ~ Rob Stirrups, The Lancet

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Melancholy is defined as "a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression" or "sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness". Both of these definitions apply here. These are the ramblings of a disturbed mind - on the face of it, a sex addict with a narcissistic personality. Our narrator sees a psychiatrist regularly, is on medication, and has been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder. His behavior is, at times, extremely disturbing; he describes himself as a predator, on the hunt for vulnerable girls at the park, shopping centre, bookshop, or supermarket. But how much is real? And can our seemingly unreliable narrator even be trusted?
In a manner similar to Robert Burton's 1621 book of the same name, The Anatomy of Melancholy addresses a number of different topics in a satirical, stream of consciousness style. We find short essays on such varied topics as street violence, tits, traffic, the Underground, art, monogamy, earphones, penis size, waiting, smoking, employment, computers, television, war, shopping centers, fear, internet porn, vending machines, and the library. This is a social commentary on the millennial generation. Our narrator is unemployed, still living at home with Mum, constantly surfing the net while deriding television, engaging in casual sex with multiple partners, and always on his laptop or computer - or even both at the same time. Is his melancholy caused by this constant interaction with an alternate reality, or is his internet addiction a direct result of his melancholy? An interesting conundrum.
Gritty, realistic, compelling, and extremely insightful.
Warnings: extremely coarse language, sex scenes, drug use, violence.

Interview With the Author
Hi Matthew, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Oh, it is definitely a book for adult readers. The main character is a young man who is moving into that grey area between childhood and adulthood, feeling isolated and sucked into the online world where socialising is easy and there’s no one to please but yourself. His is a half-life that a lot of young people will recognise and for that reason I think those in their late-teens and early-twenties will identify with a lot of the novel’s themes around life in the digital age. At the same time, a lot of the people who have read the book and are eager to talk to me about it are in their mid-twenties to early-thirties – I suppose it’s around that age you’re able to look back more critically on your younger self, and the satiric element of the book probably appeals more to this sort of audience. 
What sparked the idea for this book?
A good question. I don’t remember one flash of inspiration – for me, it was more of a gradual realisation that all my friends were being affected by the same things: the way the internet divides and isolates us, dehumanises us, affects the way we interact with one another, all of that. I wanted to explore that in a novel – about exactly how far the internet could come to replace our natural lives, and what it was doing to our love lives, etc. in the process – and ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy sprung from that really.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
Very much the idea in this case. In some respects, my main character is supposed to represent a whole generation so while I feel a very strong sense of his individuality – psychological completeness is really important to me – at the same time the ideas I wanted him to represent definitely came first.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Finding time, probably. Life is pretty full on for me, and just getting a few hours to sit down and write is a real challenge (you always feel there is something more pressing that deserves your attention!) Luckily, I regularly met up with a good friend who was also writing a novel and we pushed each other on.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
Someone said to me the other day that after reading the book they felt like it was something they really needed to read. I suppose that is the sort of reaction I want to evoke: I want people to see the novel as a manifestation of things they we're already feeling but that they had perhaps not articulated to themselves or others. The discussion about how the internet is affecting us – socially, sexually, academically – is becoming more wide spread but it is a conversation that is still not as openly talked about as it could, or perhaps, should be given that it affects all of us on some level.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It probably worked out to be around two years. Like I say, just finding time to write can be hard!
What is your writing routine?
I tend to have a word target for each week. So long as I hit that target, I don’t mind how I do it – it takes the pressure off a bit and allows me to be flexible around my writing. I’m more of a morning person, so generally I’d wake up and dive into writing. Hopefully I’d be able to hit a week’s word target in one sitting and then just revise what I’d got with any time I had left over.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Don’t expect to make lots of money. Don’t expect people to care about your writing. Write because you love it, because you can’t not; write for yourself and not for a market or a publisher. My honest opinion is if you put the hours and effort in over a significant period of time you’ll get there. Most writers won’t write a great book until they’ve got through many hundreds of thousands of words. Most will give up before that point, or settle for second-best. Don’t do that. Hold yourself to the highest standards possible and other people will respect that, even if you have to convince them one at a time.
Great advice, Matthew. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Well, I’m a student and a librarian so one way or another I’m in the library a lot! I like going out and doing all those (can I say) wanky cultural things, but I’m just as happy watching football or old wrestling DVDs.
What does your family think of your writing?
I tend to keep my writing quite a personal thing (as much as you can when you’re a published author), so it isn’t something that gets discussed much. I think it’s best not to put the pressure on people you care about to be interested or supportive of your work. It is impossible to take praise from a loved one at face value but equally it is disheartening if they appear indifferent, so it’s best, I think, to not push your writing in people’s faces.
Very insightful. Did you like reading when you were a child?
I am probably a fairly typical boy: I loved stories when I was young, and I used to read quite a bit. Then I discovered girls. And football. And all that stuff that distracts you from sitting down with a good book. So I missed out on a good few reading years but I’m catching up now.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I would say probably, seriously, about five years ago, although really it is something that has floated around my head forever. I don’t particularly think writers are born, or anything romantic like that, but I heard Booker prize winning author Howard Jacobson say a few years ago that he felt all writers wrote because there was something wrong with them – they were (or felt they were) deficient in some way – I think there’s some truth to that, at least for people who feel the compulsion to write. Locking yourself away from the world to create alternate realities through words isn’t really that healthy, is it? I suppose some people lose themselves in music, or drugs, or anything else that helps anaesthetise whatever pain they feel. For me, that was writing.
Interesting theory. Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I don’t think so – that is to say beyond the inevitable influence everyone’s personal life has on their art – my childhood was wholly unextraordinary. I pottered around the outskirts of London, bunking off school and trading Pokemon cards, pretty standard stuff.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I really enjoy Martin Amis and I think his violent wit is something that appeals to me, but my own prose perhaps leans more towards a moroseness, a hopelessness of someone like Bret Easton Ellis. I suppose my conception of time in the novel is reminiscent of some of the modernists in some respects too. Hopefully, though, my style is my own; I’m an ardent fan of avoiding cliché or formulaic writing – even if you’re following the formula of someone who writes wonderfully well.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do, and actually it has been one of the most unexpectedly affirming parts of putting my writing out there. To listen to people’s theories and readings of my novel is incredibly gratifying. When, on occasion, I receive an e-mail out of the blue or bump into someone who has read the novel it invariably makes my day.
Fantastic! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel – it’s sort of a blend between The Remains of the Day and The Go-Between that sees a couple of old school chums reunited – one an agoraphobic artist, the other a repressed homosexual and carer – to visit Spain to see the Dali museum in his home town. It is completely different from my first novel – no sex, no swearing, but instead a couple of dear old public school boys. I hope it will be interesting to readers in a completely different way to ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy. We shall see.
Can't wait! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Matthew. Best of luck with your future projects.

About the Author
Matthew Selwyn is a young writer from London, England. His debut novel, ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy was released in 2014. A student and librarian, he is often to be found hiding amongst the stacks in the Victorian library where he works, surrounded by piles of books. He writes book reviews online.

Enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win a hardcover copy of ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Matthew Selwyn (open internationally).