Today I am joined by Anne Goodwin on tour with her latest book Underneath.
Underneath is the second novel from author Anne Goodwin, following the success of her debut Sugar and Snails in 2015, (critically acclaimed and shortlisted for the Polari Prize)
I have a guest post from Anne today entitled ‘The Dead Space Underneath‘, so I do hope you enjoy!!
THE DEAD SPACE UNDERNEATH
by Anne Goodwin
My second novel, Underneath, is about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship problem by keeping a woman captive in a cellar.
Besides outlining how this comes about, and whether it’s sustainable, my novel explores how a man who appears ordinary on the surface can delude himself that his criminal behaviour is acceptable.
Early in the novel, an estate agent shows the narrator around the house he ends up buying (p8):
‘The woman pushed through the glass-panelled kitchen door and took a right into a tiny alcove I hadn’t noticed on the way in. “Dead space, this”, I thought. “Perhaps I could knock through the wall and extend the kitchen.”‘
When I wrote that scene, I wasn’t thinking of the symbolism. I was thinking, like my character, Steve, of the architecture of the house in which much of the action takes place.
Even though I wanted to write a novel about the workings of a disturbed mind, it wasn’t until much later, when the book was edited and on its way to publication, did it strike me that the dead space in Steve, and what he does with it, is the key to his character.
Steve’s mother was a widow when he was born, her grief casting a shadow over his early years and distancing him from her in adulthood. But, in conversation with his girlfriend, Liesel, he’s fairly laid back about not having known his father (p55):
Liesel pressed her abdomen against mine, as if to interlock our navels. “Tell me about when you were a boy.”
“What’s to say? I was like everybody else.”
“Except you didn’t have a dad,” said Liesel.
“Well, yes, but I didn’t miss him because I never knew any different …”
Yet, in flashbacks to his childhood, we see him equating his father with Santa as “just pretend” and feeling intensely jealous of his friend’s relationship with his father. As an adult, he’s filled the gap with father figures, such as his sister’s husband and an older man at work, men who might serve as role models. He’s so desperate for an idealised male to emulate, he compares himself with a character Liesel mentions called Adam Applegarth, and continues to do so even when it’s clear she made him up.
Steve’s denial of a father’s relevance becomes problematic when Liesel wants to start a family. He can’t envisage fatherhood when he has no sense of what being a father means. When Liesel tries to help him explore his anxieties, or suggests he could learn, he’s dismissive; I think because his fear goes beyond words to a “nameless dread” (a term coined by the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion). Unbeknown to Liesel, she’s pushed him into mental territory where the boundary between fantasy and reality is unclear.
The cellar itself is an ambiguous space right from the start (p10):
The estate agent squeezed her clipboard against her bulging belly. “Fabulous, isn’t it?”
Liesel shrugged. “But what’s it for?”
“A space like this could lend itself to all kinds of possibilities. If you’re musical you could have yourselves a soundproofed practice room. Or get it fitted out as a designer kitchen. It’s twice the size of the one upstairs.”
“I couldn’t imagine slaving over a stove in a room with no window,” said Liesel.
I couldn’t imagine Liesel slaving over anything. But I could picture her at an easel with a palette of paints. “Could be a studio.”
The estate agent smoothed her hand across her bump. “It would make an ideal playroom if you were planning on having children.”
At Christmas, it’s a love nest, a retreat from the world where they can be “like babes in the womb, completely free”. When Steve paints the walls in “intertwining snakes of claret, copper and carnation … like the work of the nursery class on cocaine” (p84), Liesel picks up on the similarities with a contemporary art exhibition at a local gallery, which, although he denied it, Steve found disturbing. She refers to it as womb-like but, later, when she tells him, in relation to her volte face about having children, I’ve got the equipment, I may as well use it, she probably doesn’t anticipate how this will contribute to Steve’s rationalisation for his use of the cellar (p204):
the way I see it, if you’ve got something, you’ve a responsibility not to let it go to waste. You know, like a woman wants a baby because, if not, what’s the point of her having a womb?… If you happen to have a house with a cellar, you might as well put it to good use.
But she doesn’t know that she’s living with a man for whom spaces have always been difficult. As he says of his experience of working nights (p20):
A quarter to four on my third ever nightshift and I’d begun to understand that it wasn’t the work itself that was knackering, but the spaces in between.
He encounters other uncomfortable spaces on his sister’s appointments calendar, the slot for that day blank, even though his visit was planned; the abyss of his ignorance in relation to his father; and in a silence “so deep I was afraid we wouldn’t ever crawl back out of it” (p235). And it’s there in the name of the gallery, The Space, where the disturbing artwork is displayed.
In Steve’s unconscious mind, gaps must be filled or, if that’s not possible, denied. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out whether filling the space in the cellar is a solution to his problems or the catalyst for his own unravelling.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Purchase Link ~ Underneath
Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size.
Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
Website ~ http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/
Twitter ~ @Annecdotist