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.
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.