Thursday, March 29, 2018

Damian Dibben

Damian Dibben is the creator of the internationally acclaimed children's book series the History Keepers, translated into 26 languages in over 40 countries. Previously, he worked as a screenwriter, and actor, on projects as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera and Puss in Boots and Young Indiana Jones. He lives, facing St Paul's Cathedral, on London's Southbank with his partner Ali and dog Dudley.

Dibben's new novel is Tomorrow.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
So I have finally got round to reading The Goldfinch. Often I fear picking up long books, worried I won't have the time - or possibly the patience - to finish them (I'm a ridiculously slow reader..) This book was an exception. It is long, yes it could have been shorter if it had to be, but crucially I didn't want it to be.

The hook is the thing, I've never know one to have such a hold on me, to keep me rapt for more than 700 pages. We fall for young Theo. We fall for his mother too. When visiting an exhibition of Dutch old masters at the Met, there's a bomb. She dies, he lives. In a vast city, she was the only person of meaning in his world. In the dreamy aftermath of the explosion - one of the best early scenes I have ever read in a novel - Theo comforts another man who also dies, before exiting the gallery with a tiny but indescribably rare painting: the Goldfinch. As Theo grows up into a man, dealing or not dealing with his grief, he keeps the painting hidden. His secret, no one else's. In the same way as his grief is only his too, but just as epic and priceless and eternal. The question of how he'll turn out, how he'll survive the catastrophe, is locked inextricably to the question of whether he'll ever reveal his secret - and this provides the tension of the book, and its motor.

Of course, there is so much more, the language is extraordinary, painted on the page in an almost impressionistic way. The conversation Theo had had with the dying man leads him into the fascinating sphere of that man's loved ones. Art itself is a presence, a character, and not always a kind one. Between the lines of the book, there is the sense of the sweep of history, of the power of art through time. There are brilliantly drawn characters, the 'gliding' Hobie, the tricksy Boris, - almost a medieval construct, a devilish counterpoint to Theo, his dark shadow - and the Barbours, the high society New York family that take Theo in, are fascinatingly detailed - most pointedly in their own demise. At one point, the story seems to take a strange turn and we find ourselves in brash, post-crash Vegas, but this - we realise perhaps later on - is vital and resonant: it's a key part of Theo's odyssey and sets off the jewel like world of Manhattan. Similarly it's fitting the denouement takes place in Amsterdam, the heart of the 'ancient world' of the story. It's right that as the story reaches its climax - as also do the battles in Theo's mind & soul - the genre shape-shifts to murderous thriller.

And finally, there's the Goldfinch itself: it is enigma in its own way, a painting, tiny & great, that connects the old world of art to the new. The bird is beautiful, but has a little chain prisoning it to a perch and we wonder too if it will ever find its freedom...

A book on the grandest scale, about loss, love money, art, demons & angels, crime & redemption - and the very history of the world.
Visit Damian Dibben's website.

My Book, The Movie: Tomorrow.

The Page 69 Test: Tomorrow.

--Marshal Zeringue