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Joseph O'Neill - Longlist author interview

Joseph O'Neill - Longlist author interview

The next author we speak to is previously longlisted novelist Joseph O'Neill. Longlisted in 2014 with The Dog

What has it been like to be longlisted?

I feel very, very lucky. There's no other way to feel about it. It's an interesting feeling, of course, and not without its complexities.

What are you working on next?

I'm not sure about 'next,' but I recently wrote a short story, which isn't something I can announce very often. In fact, any sentence beginning with the words "I recently wrote" is very unlikely to be a sentence of mine, unfortunately.

What are you reading at the moment?

Roberto Bolano's 2666. I'd like to read JG Farrell's Troubles (see below).

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

It's very agreeable, first of all, to go online and remind myself of which books won or were shortlisted over the years, and to see the titles of all those wonderful novels once again. The ones from the 80s are particularly meaningful, because in those days I read innocently, whereas these days it's hard for me not to see under the swant-like text and spy the author's somewhat revolting webbed feet. I haven't opened Midnight's Children or Disgrace in years, but they blew me away in a permanent kind of way. The Kazuo Ishiguro and Peter Carey books are the real deal, of course. Favorite non-winners include The Enigma of Arrival, by VS Naipaul, which wasn't even shortlisted. The Driver's Seat, by Muriel Spark, should have won the Lost Man Booker, but I say that with the shameless, irrational assertiveness that characterize so much literary opinion, because I haven't (yet) read all the others on the Lost Man Booker shortlist, e.g., Farrell's Troubles,which was the winner. Farrell was something of a Lost Man, it seems.

The Dog is, among other things, a story of exile and displacement. How much influence does your own Irish-Dutch-American heritage have on your choice of theme?

Your question doesn't mention my Turkish heritage, which I'll get back to! Here are my facts of displacement, since you open that Pandora's box: I was born in Ireland, to an Irish father and Turkish mother, then very soon was taken to Africa, then to Asia, and then to the Netherlands, where I went to international schools. Next came England, for college and a decade of work, and finally, in 1988, I came to New York, where (to my disbelief) I've lived longer than anywhere, and acquired US citizenship in addition to my Irish one.

So I grew up with a sense of myself as Irish, but the meaning of nationality became something I had no option but to question. It's far from a coincidence, then, that The Dog's protagonist is an expatriate--although I'm not sure that expatriate' is applicable to me, since I don't have a strong sense of coming out any national culture in in the first place. As far as The Dog is concerned, I don't wish to overlook the fact that my mother, a Turkish national, belongs to a Christian Arab minority and, in this sense, is 100% Arab, and it would seem to follow, I'm half-Arab. Arabic was one of the languages I grew up hearing as a child, listening to the chatter of my grandmother and her friends, and to this day I love to hear Arabic spoken, perhaps because it is incomprehensible to me.