Letters to Jude by James Lawless was published on the 29th June 2022 with Balestier Press and is described as ‘an experimental, Joycean novel’. I am delighted to bring you all an extract from the preface of the book which I do hope you enjoy, as well as further information about Letters to Jude and about James Lawless himself.
Praise for Letters to Jude:
‘ A tour-de-force for the mind but also a chastening that words come from the body and return to it’ – Declan Kiberd
‘A rich Joycean novel with beautifully written passages of linguistic diversity and deep emotions full of insights’ – Brandon Yen
[ About Letters to Jude ]
Unable to find emotional rapport with his wife, Lil, with whom he shares a childless marriage, middle-aged and ailing librarian Leo Lambkin begins a correspondence with an old flame, Bernarda, who writes to him after she hears of the tragic death of his mother.
Bernarda, whom Leo disguises as Jude, informs him that he is the father of her child, Uanito, begot some years previously by violent circumstances at the instigation of apparent burglars in the Chief Librarian’s Dublin home, where Bernarda had been working as an au pair. Overwrought at the time and fearing that Leo would not want a child conceived in such a manner, she kept him in the dark and returned to her native Spain. Leo feels for Uanito as he grows and delights in the boy’s sense of wonder at the world, which is related to him in alternating sad and hilarious accounts by Jude. He suffers however in not being able to share in his son’s development.
As dark wintry days give way to the increasing light and hope of summer, Leo and Jude long for an anticipated rendezvous. But what are the forces that stand in their way?
The Author’s Preface from Letters to Jude
What is a novel?
As human beings we tend to hide our real selves. We are afraid to express our darkest thoughts. Words we use are frequently just lottery letters fortuitously trying to hit on meaning and ambushing our minds in Whorfian perceptions of reality. All the world’s literature in English is derived from twenty six letters. (In the Talmud God is about to create the world through the word when the letters of the alphabet descend from his crown and plead that he create it through them). Think of all the combinations and permutations of twenty six spirits flitting about in all directions like a child’ cardboard cutouts dangling from strings, allowing for occasional white space —the universe of void. The slightest ruffle of air makes them dance. A stronger current from a door opening makes them chatter. But a gust of wind makes them individualise their speech. Leo Lambkin, an unfulfilled married man in a childless marriage and the, for-the-want-of-a better-word, protagonist of Letters to Jude is an ageing solipsist preoccupied with his mortality but who can be equally as blackly homo ludens as homo tragicus; and this is a novel primarily of the spirit, tragic and comic, an individual’s quest for things of the soul where the institutionalised world has failed us. The method is through the elasticity of language. The writer and characters play and interact with it to mould their own creation. And Leo in particular does this as a forager, not for his ancestor’s berries, but for illuminations as, in in the quotidian odyssey of his life, he tries to lasso each new observation into a meaningful and hermeneutic discovery. Every word uttered puts a limitation on the vast content of one’s mind. In between the two darknesses of birth and death we fail to learn who we are. Nor do we even, for the most part, allow ourselves to enquire. We are tied up in all sorts of baggage and pseudo-morality and many of us go to the grave in a state of terror or bewilderment.. Dreaming gives the brain a chance to act on its own. The conscious mind cannot create art and, as Montesquieu points out, ‘the best and most pleasing writing is that which excites in the soul the greatest number of simultaneous sensations’. Truth can be relative as it depends on whose lens you are looking through. A single author can no longer indulge the luxury of being omniscient, and James Francis becomes a character complicit in his own novel as critics and a reader and various other voices are interwoven into the narrative. A novel, if it is worth its salt, should throw light on the human condition. The truest art will be that which refuses us the neatness of the finished thing. Our best selves, our most complex selves, are not our social selves. An artist’s job is to try to release the infinite potentialities of language, to chronicle our often nameless longings and daydreams of our secret selves. He or she plays with language in order to test its power. But he organises more than words, he organises experience, the felt life. Art is superior to science as it is not restricted by logic. But what was there prior to speech from which language derives? Letters to Jude is as much a work of applied philosophy as it is of fiction, dealing as it does teleologically and eschatologically in the breaking down of the body as exemplified by Leo’s growing ailments, and by the inevitable annihilation of the world which started with the word and as marked by the disintegration of the letters. Some critics argue that the technique of writing known as stream of consciousness is artificial. But all language is artificial, and letters are mere symbols. Our syntactically accurate sentences are more counterfeit than any stream of consciousness. Additionally, they are limited and only reveal a fraction of what is inside our minds. Stream of consciousness gives language a chance to break free from its conventional fetters and frequently works by word association and similar sounds which spark off thoughts in enrichingly diverse tangents: eye I, relative relation, coffin coughin’, etc. The free range of the mind should not be imprisoned like battery hens.
The modern Odyssey is internalised. Man’s actions are no longer necessarily physically heroic but in his dreams they can be, and dreams are important in that, like reading, they create images, anarchic at times and uncircumscribed by wakeful convention, thus adding to our insights together with the half wakeful half-oneiric states of our semi-consciousness. And the act of writing about a non-heroic character such as Leopold Bloom, as Joyce (whom I claim as my literary progenitor) did, could paradoxically be considered a heroic action in itself when one considers the effort he put into the making of Ulysses. Emotions, only partly articulated, must bubble up from the prose. Stream of consciousness doesn’t simply mean adding extra punctuation points to a formal sentence; rather, it is an attempt to capture the disparate elements, both rational and irrational, that make up who we are—all the pluralities that inhabit our minds. For example, at a creative writing workshop we listen to a story or a poem, and during the reading all sorts of thoughts are going on—an unkind or flattering impulse perhaps towards the reader, and there our own unrestrained egos come to the fore in relation more often to the story teller than to the story he or she is telling. These powerful, mostly unexpressed, forces inside our minds are far stronger than anything contained in the squeaky little sentences that come out in formal utterances. In our so-called civilised society we often suppress one another to avoid the anarchy in ourselves emerging despite maybe inwardly acknowledging that it is precisely this anarchy which ultimately presents the real truth about ourselves. Man is sometimes more irrational than rational, as Freud demonstrates. He recognised the limitations of literal language to express our inner selves. Our thoughts, as Bergson points out, go round in circles, but our language is linear and mainly on the surface of our being. We rarely give voice to our true and often irrational thoughts, the unsociable side of our selves, our inner core. Rather, we spend our lives subsisting behind a hierarchically imposed linguistic veneer clinging to one limiting ideology or other as our raison d’être, but really living in mortal fear and without ever becoming known to either ourselves or to anyone else. Hence we need art to unravel some of the complexities of our innermost psyches, to express the whole person trembling. So how do you get to ultimate truth in literature? By breaking down a class-imposed alphabet system and search for new forms of expressing ourselves—a film can often catch the truth of a moment without the resonance of a word. Logically and grammatically constructed sentences (what I am compelled to use now as exegesis) no longer suit the fragmented world of today with its interlinking global gadgets, and with all of us having two simultaneous thinks at a time as Joyce would say. It can even be more than two thinks now: as Daniel C Dennett argues in Consciousness Explained, our brains are like parallel processors performing many different tasks at the same time. Or as Kierkegaard put it, and this could be applied directly to Letters to Jude, ‘more and more becomes possible’ when ‘nothing becomes actual.’ And this idea in turn may have been influenced by Hegel, according to whom language negates things and beings in their insularity, replacing them with concepts. Words give us the world by taking it away.Purchase Link – Letters to Jude
[ Bio ]
James Lawless is an award-winning Irish novelist, short story writer and poet who was born in the Liberties of Dublin. He is an arts graduate of University College Dublin and holds an MA in Communications from Dublin City University. He has broadcast his work on radio and writes book reviews for national newspapers. His awards include the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the WOW award, a Biscuit International Prize for short stories, the Cecil Day Lewis Award, a Hennessey award nomination for emerging fiction and an arts bursary award for a study of modern poetry. Two of his stories were also shortlisted for the Willesden and Bridport prizes and he was an award winner in the Colm Tóibín Short Story Awards (2020). His books have been translated into several languages.
His work has been commended by, among others, Jennifer Johnston (‘has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing’), Declan Kiberd (‘invents a new way of seeing the world’), Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland (‘His love for words and form is at all times discernible’), Carlo Gébler (‘gives deep literary pleasure’), the Hollywood actor and writer Gabriel Byrne (‘I highly recommend him’), Sunday Independent (‘Possessed of a lively, fleet-footed style that brims with intellect and poeticism, Lawless, an award- winning short story writer and poet, is an author who we should perhaps start taking more seriously’). The author divides his time between County Kildare and West Cork
Website – https://jameslawless.net
Twitter – @vanThool