WHY I CAN’T READ THE NOVEL I WROTE

The Naked HusbandThey say you cannot step in the same river twice.

Two weeks ago I published a novel for the first time here in the US that was a huge bestseller in Australia. The Naked Husband is very different from my usual work and will be featured for the next month on Barnes and Noble through Nook First.

I am very nervous about this; the narrator, Mark, is based on a person very well known to this author, however uncomfortable I may be with him today.

It’s why it is the only novel of my entire backlist that remains unchanged. People tell me it’s very raw. I’m sure it could do with the more professional hand I have these days, but then I might be tempted to take out some of the candor as well as the bad writing. It would be like shaving a flaw out of a pearl – by the time you’ve finished there is nothing left.

Plus, I just can’t do it. The memories this book evokes for me are too painful. It was hard enough writing it. Don’t ask me to read it again.

So why revisit it? I asked my publisher at Cool Gus that question. She said to me: “There is so much to love and to hate about this book. It’s not like anything else out there. You have to publish it here.”

I was astounded by the letters and emails I received at the time of its original publication in Australia; that I still get them, so long afterwards, amazes me more. They come from people who relate to one of the three characters in the book; if it’s Mark or Anna they write to thank me. If it’s Susan, they want to rip my throat out.

I am not being frivolous. There are still people in my old town who speed up if they see me crossing the road. No book of mine has ever produced such vitriol, or polarized opinion in such a way. There is nothing as juicy as someone else’s sins, I suppose.

The Naked Husband

original cover from Random House Australia

It has taught me something about celebrity, however unwelcome.I was notorious for about five minutes about eight years ago, and what struck me most was a feeling of astonishment. People make up the most outrageous lies about you; where do these lies come from? Who starts them? But once it’s said, it becomes truth. Make it juicy enough no one wants to let it go anyway. You just sigh and get on with it.

I did not write The Naked Husband for publication, originally. I wrote it because I knew that Anna would one day deny that any of it ever happened, that she had not said and done the things she did. I wanted a record of it, so that at least one of us would remember. I also thought there would be a time when I might make better sense of it, before time helps us forget.

The irony is now I can’t bear to read it. It’s like watching a train wreck.

But yes, I did it just for me; a novelist’s way of making sense of private and public pain. If I’d known it was ever going to see the light of day I would not have been so honest. When it was done, I gave the only copy to Anna, and ironically she was the one who encouraged me to publish it – as long as she remained anonymous, of course. I then showed my agent, who rang back just a few hours later and said: you have to release this.

Did I have the right to share someone else’s private thoughts as well as my own? It’s still a moot point with me. Maybe I didn’t. Whatever I did, I knew I would feel both regret and accomplishment.

This is hardly an apology for anything I have done; if that was my intention I would have written Mark another way. He’s hardly a sympathetic character.

The book shot onto the bestseller lists, only kept off the top by Dan Brown. I was not surprised that people hated the book, and could not relate; that was exactly what I expected. What floored me was just how many people loved it and recognized themselves in it. “It seems so strange that the feelings I thought were only mine should be laid out raw in front of me,” one woman wrote.

Many others wrote in a similar vein. It was Anna who stirred them, not Mark. They understood about her “half-life, that scarcely seems better than no life at all,” as another wrote. Many felt that they, too, needed to keep a secret self ever hidden from others; Anna certainly kept a wrap on hers and I believe she does still to this day.

None of us can live peaceably with two people warring inside; but moving towards the one you want to be means facing the music.

That is what this book is about, and if I now invite another wave of vitriol, then so be it. They say even the worst of us can serve us a good example. I’ll get equal number of five and one star reviews; there are rarely any in the middle. I probably won’t read the reviews either.

But if this book can persuade even one person to throw that box of pills down the toilet, and not down their throat, then it has served its purpose; if it persuades just one man or one woman that you should either mend a relationship or break clean before moving on to another, then the book is worthwhile. I hope it also makes clear what ‘toxic’ means.

Marriage is a hard, hard gig as the current divorce rates show, but it’s vital we value integrity over opportunity. We must be true to ourselves, yes; but it’s hard to do that if we are living a lie. Trading passion for security is a sad way to spend a life, but eschewing that choice and trying to have both is ultimately devastating.

There is nothing at all sexy about pain.

I was accused once live on air of having written a pornographic novel; another reviewer said there was not enough sex in the novel to justify all the hype. People reveal so much of themselves in their judgments; in that way all books are a mirror.

And now to the question I am asked the most; does he take the phone call at the end? Back then I left it for the reader to decide; now I can only tell what I think he should have done – which is grab the mobile from his mate’s hand and throw it so far into the lake you wouldn’t see the splash.

The Naked HusbandTHE NAKED HUSBAND at NookFirst

THE NAKED HUSBAND IN PRINT OR EBOOK ON AMAZON

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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13 Responses to WHY I CAN’T READ THE NOVEL I WROTE

  1. Julia Robb says:

    This is very interesting, and very true. Honest writing is not popular. Nobody wants to read the truth about life and people, nobody wants to see themselves reflected in a character’s unacceptable behavior. The truth about human nature is too raw for most people to stomach. I have just been thrown off a website, on which I was a featured columnist, because readers accused me of writing a book promoting homosexuality. “Scalp Mountain” isn’t about homosexuality. One character is a tragic man who cannot deal with his feelings about another man. But these culture-war warriors see this as my attempt to promote a lifestyle. I think many writers forget a writer’s first goal is to produce truth, as that writer knows it; anything else is a betrayal of the art and the artist.

    • The same way Brokeback Mountain wasn’t about gay cowboys; it was a love story about two guys who happened to be cowboys. But hey, upset the Rick Santorum crowd at your peril, Julia. Stand your ground; the crowd only yells at whoever has the ball. Good on you.

  2. Trish D says:

    I’m a fan of The Naked Husand (as I’ve said often) having read it back at the time of publication. I had the privilege of coming to see you discuss the book at a Brisbane bookshop! I’ve also got a kindle version which I read again at the beginning of this year. It’s even weird for the reader to revisit in a different time of their own lifes journey, Colin. I personally would love to see Mark revisit the time but in a new novel with the benefit and wisdom of retrospect. I think fans of the book, like me, would benefit from Marks continued journey beyond that time. hint hint.

    It’s harrowing, but I love the purity of the Naked Husband.

  3. Great post, Colin. This isn’t the normal type of novel I like to read. I think you know that I prefer historical fiction. However, your story has intrigued me and I may have to pick this one up some time down the road. 🙂

    • Thanks Michelle. It’s quite different to other things I have written – its very raw – whether you like it or not really depends on your life experience so far. People love it or hate it with a passion.

  4. Sue says:

    I happened to scroll through the B&N new releases last week and The Naked Husband caught my attention. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I love books that stay with you and make you think long after you are finished with them. I unfortunately recognized some pieces of my old self in the story as well and can appreciate how you left yourself so vulnerable in the telling. This was my first introduction to you as an author and I was completely caught up in the story and the purity in which it was told. I searched for your other writings and was pleasantly surprised to find you write historical fiction (my favorite). You now have a new fan. I just want you to know that I really appreciate your story and if you happen to write an update to “Mark”, as suggested, I certainly would welcome it!

    • Thanks Sue. I am glad my book touched you. There is a sequel to Naked Husband but it’s non fiction – I may release that next year. I hope you like my historical fiction, too – there’s always bits of me in every book but not as much as in Naked Husband of course. Thank you for your kind words about the book. I appreciate it.

  5. I’m sorry people have judged you, Colin. I’m a firm believer in the whole casting the first stone, glass houses thing. Those who judge harshly probably feel like they’re looking into a mirror. I’m glad you feel like you’ve written a book that will help others. Writing it probably helped you, too. Will you have it available for Kindle again? I can only find a paperback version.

    • Yes Kristy, it will be available for Kindle next month when it comes off Nook First – I’ll announce it. And if you feel like writing that review for Corrigan’s Run … it’s now on Amazon. And thanks for your words of support – I’m used to it by now, but how far people will go in reaction to a book still shocks me sometimes. I guess that’s a good thing overall, though.

  6. Jess Witkins says:

    So, I’m late to this posting, I just read your recent one and saw the book giveaway. I immediately pulled up goodreads (of which I’m always logged in) and checked out the synopsis. The subject immediately caught my eye. I’m really intrigued by this raw story of honest emotions. Must be powerful if you’re unable or unwilling to read it again. What a brave choice to agree to publish knowing the writing style was different than your other works and could create backlash from those who know you. All I can say is, nothing great ever happened from playing it safe, right? As you said, it’s worth it if it helps one couple mend or split their relationship before something awful happens.

    Hope you focus on the positive feedback and try to move past the negative. Thanks for sharing this personal story.

    • Well I have to admit the number of emails I got in Australia from readers who just loved the book and related far outweigh the bad. But the bad ones! They’d take yo0ur breath away! But as you say, Jess. nothing great ever happened by playing it safe, but writing this close to home does make a person feel vulnerable.

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