Family Fortunes was a state of the nation novel, krozruch conceivved of while he was working with young adults with "special educational needs" and, through this, seeing precisely what it was that was lacking in society to leave people so wanting for basic spiritual, physiological, and emotional needs. Ten years before Brexit, it was clear that there were not two nations, as Disraelli had once argued (nonsensically even then), but hundreds, some of whom had unimaginable luxury while others had few or no basic human needs met.
From Radical Transparency
The Following is taken from the introduction in Radical Transparency:
"One of the first, and one of the fullest, of my unwritten novels. Also, one of the first unwritten novels whose 'death' caused me significant grief.
Very much a state of the nation piece, Family Fortunes, concerned a number of characters from different (I will make no apology for my use of the term) classes. A number of characters were tied together by one event: a rape. The victim, incidentally also the victim of a burglary, is a young girl, Kel, struggling to support herself in the low-rent jobs available to her. The rape occurs during a stag night in Nottingham. I did as much research as I could to make the rape believable, or rather psychologically and sociologically realistic, which may be a different thing altogether. The perpetrator was not portrayed as a straightforwardly evil person, and indeed, had not been so. He spent much of his time acting as carer for his mother. He rarely got out to do what his friends did, and to what he felt he should be doing himself. When he met Kel on the stag night and got chatting, he felt he might finally begin to close the gap between himself and his friends (more properly, perhaps, his mates), in terms of having a good time, being a man, enjoying himself. She takes him home and the two of them are all over each other in the taxi ride as well as outside her place as she fumbles for her keys. When she lets him in only to discover she has been burgled, he doesn't take no for an answer.
Chris, the nerdy hero of the piece, refuses to cover for him unlike the others who close ranks when the rape comes to light. They maintain the line internally, as justification for the actions, that Gem, the girl who was seen leaving the club with the perpetrator (whose name escaped me), 'wanted it' and, externally, by making a cover story for him.
For this he earns ostracision from the group but, ultimately, gets rewarded by getting his girl. The irony of this in terms of what could be taken as the feminist thrust of the piece was not lost on me given that Gem remained so strung out by the end of the novel that she had to take ecstasy to process it and talk about it with friends. I read Anna Karenina while not writing this novel and struggled over how to end a novel with so many points of view. For me, the ending of Anna Karenina felt forced. From memory, I did not think that the character from whose point of view the last chapter was written had been the main character throughout (neither did I believe this to be Anna Karenina herself, but rather, I think, Kitty). The resolution of his problems, therefore, would not have led to the resolution of the central tensions of the novel itself. It was for this reason I felt, and the fact that there were key characters whose problems could not now be resolved for the better,that Tolstoy may have felt he had had no option but to speciously resolve the open tensions and problems of the novel by resolving the aim of life itself, that is, by granting this one character a religious awakening.
I had also described the problems of women, the underprivileged, even the principled, a little too closely for all of this to be put back in its box again at the end of the novel, and I noticed in myself the strong desire to wrap it all up with some kind of confected resolution of something on the order of life, the universe, and everything.
At this time I was getting drawn into investigating "deep" politics. Consequently Chris's acting morally is tied up with his increasing political engagement, reading about 9/11 truth and the like.
Daz, the burglar, is a likable character, though most of those around him are not. I forget how this all tied together but he was informed by the young adults I was working with at the time at a special needs college.
The planning I did on Family Fortunes is, I think, such, that I could write it all without need for significant reimaginings. This may indeed be the case for most major unwritten novels I have planned since that time with the exception of The Tigermoth which was very much formed of the same impulses following Family Fortune's hard stall.
There was at that time (and there has been since), a tendency for writing projects to sprawl. This was especially the case when I was making slow progress. They would take on extra characters and baroque structures, sometimes involving meta narrative and the like. In Family Fortunes this was certainly the case, and my attempting to read and analyse books such as Bleak House and Anna Karenina didn't help matters. The novel began to take on a broadening, and Dickensian, range of characters (and their issues). I say Dickensian because, though I was very keen on taking a Tolstoyan/Zola-esque stance towards the issues and hoped to deal with them in a sociologically-meaningful and realistic way, I was not above writing in a death metal band as the people brought in to "break in" the prostitutes brought into the country to work in a brothel in Birmingham. The brothel, where women were enslaved and imprisoned, was to function, I think, (not only) to make the reader ask how sexual acts which occured here differed from that committed by the rapist on the stag do."
Footnotes and references
- the title remained working title, though it is true that I was fond enough of it (despite its flaws being evident to me) that I may have permitted it to make the distance despite myself
- I remember writing one version of the rape scene where he first left the place, hung around for a while and then broke back in. I spent days, perhaps weeks and months, agonising over whether he ought to first leave, whether he ought to have had drugs with the others before going back to hers, whether it ought to happen more or less straight away as they came in the door and she saw the state of the place, etc etc. I wanted it to be clear that he had made a clear decision. I wanted the question of the culpability of the group, the society at large, to be in the reader's mind concerning the act itself before the others had decided to cover for him.
- I think it was soon after coming back from that first stint in Prague that I watched the BBC series, which I very much enjoyed, and I spent several years failing to read the book or listen to it successfully as an audiobook.