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tv   BBC News  BBC News  November 12, 2017 6:50pm-7:01pm GMT

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sees his influence crumbling away. he's losing his grip, his family, perhaps even his sanity. what becomes of him? edward st aubyn's novel, dunbar, is a retelling of the story of king lear, as a contemporary novel. funny and melancholy by turns, the author of the celebrated series of novels about patrick melrose, is back on his favourite territory, dealing with a life touched and changed by tragedy. welcome. the inspiration for this story, the start of the novel in a way, was the idea that you should take the king lear story and do something with it. now, is it easy to leave the thought of that fundamental story behind, and take off on your own? at first, i suffered from a "don't mess with the bard" angst, because i was in the face of a sort of monument of world literature, but i was asked to be inspired by shakespeare, not to be intimidated by him,
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and it's impossible not to be inspired by shakespeare. anyone writing in english is inspired by shakespeare. and in this case, a particular pretext in king lear, i found that quite soon i left the play behind, and became involved in the novel, and it was like all my novels, i wanted to write the next sentence and the next scene. and you've got a central character, dunbar himself, who is a media mogul, an immensely powerful man, who sees everything slipping away. i mean, his power, but also his mind, and we are with him as he becomes entrapped, really, in a world in which he can no longer understand, in which he tries to exercise power. it's a very contemporary story, isn't it? yes, i wanted to find the modern analogue for a king, and it wasn't a king, obviously,
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or an elected politician, but someone who is part of the permafrost of power, and dunbar is such a person. but what the novel can do, that is very difficult for a play to do, except through monologues, is to show the interior life of a character, and there are no monologues in king lear, as against hamlet, who is always rushing front of stage to tell us what he is thinking and feeling. lear can't do that because his whole problem is, he has no self—knowledge. so characterising the mind of someone in that situation was a new opportunity. and characterising the mind when it is beginning to break up, in a way. i mean, he is losing it... yes. as we would say, and he's having conversations, particularly with peter in the place
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where he is, not exactly incarcerated, but living, that are, ones that don't make any sense any longer. they make sense to us by inference, but they are incoherent in themselves, yes. and peter is a professional comedian. he's terribly funny. he's also, unfortunately, an alcoholic. and in that sense i also departed from king lear, because i thought there should be a fool who was funny, rather than a moralising monster. how much sympathy do you have for dunbar, because in many ways he is a grotesque character. you don't indicate any sympathy for the kind of power that he wielded or how he wielded it. on the other hand, there is a human sympathy for someone who is not exactly cracking up but beginning to fail in the way that he is? the way in which he's acquired power is repulsive,
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but we feel compassion for the way he's losing power, and it's also true that it's very difficult, as you get closer and closer to someone's mind and its workings, not to feel a growing leniency. and i suppose there's a feeling in this story, because of where it is set, and the fact he's starting to, you know, talk a fair bit of nonsense, although he's still got some of his faculties, that we all feel that there but for the grace of god, or there is where we are bound to end up. so in that sense, you're confronting the reader with a real truth about our condition? yes. i think that's true. i think there is a huge contemporary dread of losing our minds before we lose our life, and having years of mindless life, and that is one of the great phenomena of our time. although i don't think that dunbar,
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or indeed lear, was demented. i think if they have dementia as a proper constitutional condition, it weakens the tragedy, it weakens the possibility of recovery and self—knowledge, which he does acquire. he is temporally psychotic through pressure. and he escapes. but to what, we don't know. we don't know. what do you think he escapes to, any kind of redemption? is he going to be a less repulsive individual in the way that he wields power after this experience or not? there has to be some redemption in order for tragedy to exist, because if there is nothing but absurdity, if it is just about the meaninglessness and bleakness... it is just walking in the dark. then it is absurd and absurd is not tragic. to be tragic, there has to be a gain in self—knowledge, a gain in understanding, a gain in understanding the nature of love, and the nature of power and how he's
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misspent his time. and then to be deprived of those insights, at inception, is tragic. if that's what happens. i'm not spoiling the book for you. no, we're not in the business of spoiling books. but that terrible moment, when you do have the ability to see inside yourself, in a way that you haven't before, is one of the terrifying things that we all probably will face at some stage. absolutely, although some people have, are doomed to be introspective from quite an early age. but i agree with you that, that this is a story about someone having self—knowledge thrust upon them reluctantly, very late in life, when their circuitry
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is barely able to take the charge. when you finish this story about dunbar and his experience, and his wanderings and the bleakness of the fells, and then what happens at the end of the book, did you feel a sense of satisfaction about the way in which his life had found its course? did it feel right? it did feel, it felt poignant to me. i was surprised by how fond i became of dunbar. you didn't set out wanting to become fond of him? itjust happened, in the course of describing what he went through. it became very poignant to me that he got a glimpse of something before he died, that he never would have seen without this immense stress and destruction in his life. and if we're lucky enough
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to get that, you're saying it is a very precious thing? it is. it is a jewel, yes. edward st aubyn, author of dunbar, thank you very much. thank you. some sunshine today and heavy showers, especially along the north sea coast. elsewhere, under clear skies, we will see temperatures dipping away to give a widespread frost. as ever, temperatures will be colder in the countryside, well below freezing for some of us. some of us will be scraping the ice off the car. still a few showers clipping coastal england along the north sea coast tomorrow, fading in
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the afternoon. cloud increasing for england and wales, figure clad in scotla nd england and wales, figure clad in scotland and northern ireland, producing some rain and snow over higher ground in scotland. how much for how long is still open to question. keep checking the forecast tomorrow morning. they will be another cold day, with cloud increasing across the uk. but milder air comes increasing across the uk. but milder aircomes infor increasing across the uk. but milder air comes in for tuesday but with lots of cloud. this is bbc news. the headlines at 7:00: nazanin zaghari—ratcliffe, the british woman jailed in a rana nazanin zaghari—ratcliffe, the british womanjailed in a rana on charges of spying is on the verge of a nervous breakdown according to her husband. he said the foreign secretary expressed deep sorrow for her suffering. but this evening... a new row over the government's handling of the case of a british woman
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imprisoned in iran on spying charges. now michael gove faces criticism for not being clear that she was there on holiday. first secretary of state damian green insists police never told him about pornography allegedly found on his computers. he says the allegations have an ulterior motive. ahead of next month's early regional elections,

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