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Edward St. Aubyn's 'A Clue To The Exit' Is Released In The U.S.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Charlie Fairburn's been told he has six months to live. The successful screenwriter determines he'll spend the time he has left losing most of the money he's made in movies by gambling in the swanky casinos of Europe and by writing a novel about death, which his agent thinks is really losing proposition. So he gambles and loses, tries to renew some kind of last-second relationship with his daughter and loses that, too. He meets a woman, Angelique, who doesn't seem to help him win much of anything, either.

"A Clue To The Exit" is the latest novel published in the United States by Edward St. Aubyn. His previous novels include the acclaimed "Mother's Milk." He has been called one of the best British comic novelists, and Edward St. Aubyn joins us from Siena, Italy. Thanks so much for being with us.

EDWARD ST. AUBYN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Your writing, your style has been so highly acclaimed. Can I get you to just to read the first couple paragraphs of this book?

AUBYN: Yes, I'd like that. Here it goes.

(Reading) I have started to drive more cautiously since I was told I only have six months to live. All the love I've ever felt seems to have waited for this narrowing funnel of time to be decanted more precisely into my flooding veins. Bankrupt, I cannot resist staring through jewelers' windows at those diamond chokers locked solid around black velvet necks. I have often wondered whether to commit suicide. I assume I needn't go into the temptations, but in a self-service world where you have to fill your own petrol tank, assess your own taxes and help yourself to self-help, the one thing you don't have to do for yourself is end your life. So why not luxuriate in that old-fashioned sense of service? Go on, do yourself a favor. You know you deserve it. Let something else finish you off.

SIMON: Thank you. Charlie Fairburn's agent discourages him from writing about death. I wonder if your agent said to you, oh, my gosh, a book about a man with just six months to live? Drop that.

AUBYN: No, he didn't get to see it until it was finished, and by the end, that had ceased to be the main subject. Charlie Fairburn, as you say, is a successful screenplay writer and has had a hit with a film called "Aliens With A Human Heart," which he's not altogether proud of, and so he wants to write something serious before he dies. And he thinks, first of all, he'll write about his immediate situation, but then he decides to write about consciousness studies. But that novel within the novel is wrapped around by a journal that he's writing about his immediate situation.

SIMON: Tell us what went into the character of Angelique, the compulsive gambler with whom Charlie begins to keep company.

AUBYN: Well, he went into the casino hoping to lose his money in order to become this artist driven by poverty. He's horrified when he ends up much richer than he was at the beginning of the evening. He's sitting at the bar and this - there is Angelique with a symmetrical disappointment. She's lost all her money, and so he gives her his unwanted winnings, and they begin a passionate affair. But all of the incidents in this novel are really an attempt to look into the nature of consciousness.

SIMON: When you're writing, how do you know when something is funny?

AUBYN: Well, sometimes I burst out laughing. And I don't know - that's (laughter)....

SIMON: That's good. That's good.

AUBYN: ...That's a reliable indication.

SIMON: Yeah.

AUBYN: Yes, I think there's a range of what's funny. I - sometimes things are witty or they're ironic, but laugh-out-loud funny is generally something that takes the writer by surprise. It has to have that element of unexpectedness. And so yes, I just get caught up by what I have written. I don't really plan it. I don't plan my writing really at all. I just make it up as I go along, and if there's anything fresh about it, that's the reason. I don't know what I'm going to do next, which is very, very hair-raising. But on the other hand, it means that sometimes I burst out laughing because I didn't plan the joke.

SIMON: Edward St. Aubyn, his latest book, now published in the U.S., is "A Clue To The Exit." Thanks so much for being with us.

AUBYN: Thank you very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.