The World of Laura Del Rivo's under appreciated masterpiece The Furnished Room

I think it’s quite pertinent to say from the get go that Joe Beckett, the main character of Laura Del Rivo's The Furnished Room, is not simply the John Braine/Colin Wilson style of Angry Young Man but more the archetypal Angry Young Person. That Angry Young Person all us weird folk were who spent more time reading books than playing football. In Beckett’s case this is heightened by the small town in which he lives where he believes himself 'an adult in a world of children' and leads to him thumbing a lift up to London. (The capital! Always a mecca. Dublin certainly was for me back in those pre-Amazon days. Dublin had so much! Real bookshops! Tower Records! A thousand pubs and cafes! I imagine London would have been the same. So I went to Dublin and Beckett to London.)

(Laura Del Rivo in Peter Russell's bookshop, where the author worked at this time, was used on the inside cover of The Furnished Room. 1961)

Now, as I said, given Beckett’s archetypal AYP status he comes equipped with what all of us did, that burdensome problem of a philosophy. We scratch and scrape through the minds of many to inevitably be left disillusioned by the dreary inevitability of having to form our own, this however doesn’t occur until we’ve fumbled about with many other people’s that, though adapted as a way of seeing the world, never quite gel with our true perceptions and feelings of it. Beckett chooses Nihilism as a perfect antidote to the Catholicism he been raised with. The latter a world that is filled with meaning and in which we have free will to the latter which is devoid of it and people have far less free will than they think they do as Joe tells Dyce, the huskster villain of the novel.

(above; Laura del Rivo's own Furnished Room in Notting Hill, London - 1961)

Most times the most difficult thing with disposing of these youthful philosophies is that even though most of them are far from accurate – Beckett’s physical desire for Ilsa, his on again/off again lover, which he intellectualises as meaningless, being the most obvious – some actually are. The locals at the cafes he frequents 'Soho characters; bums and layabouts dressed like artists' are still around today and nobody would deny their existence nor would they the 'writers who did not write, painters who did not paint, (or the) petty thieves who were so unsuccessful that they were always scrounging the price of a cup of tea'. Such perceptions make it impossible to believe in anyone else’s perceptions of the world as they have already reinforced our own, albeit borrowed, outlook on things. Beckett’s mother even speaks of his friends 'second hand mistresses and second hand ideas' but she too is stuck in her own beliefs which prevent the knowledge she has from being anything but a trifle to him. Father Dominic of the local parish church and Gash, a sort of tragi-comic genius/recluse, have equally the same problem. They don’t speak the same language as him.

But Dyce does.

Dyce deals out his theories on money and the need for discipline so well that after Beckett says; 'You understand my ideas very well don’t you? That makes me suspect them.' Dyce deftly retorts 'No, I’m a fraud old boy.' This eases Beckett’s suspicion that he is being manipulated and gives Dyce his chance to groom the AYP into whatever he wants by both speaking and not speaking the language of the AYP.

In many ways, though I find it hard to say, I’m certainly glad I didn’t read The Furnished Room when I was in my teens or early twenties as I would probably have just gone along with Joe’s beliefs in much the same way as I did with Camus’ Mersauelt, another anti-hero outsider who got my vibe and knew his shit. Thing about Mersauelt is that he was a psychopath (everyone forgets he emptied the rest of the gun into the body of the man he kills on the beach) and Joe was an Angry Young Man trying to come to terms with a cognitive dissonance about love and life and identity while being done over instead. When he says 'In the end the lie had won' in one way I like to think of 'The lie' as the comfort blanket of ideas that we create to shield ourselves from the reality of how we truly think and feel about them. What is most important is given how ten years down the line I can see how wrong I was about life, The Furnished Room makes me wonder how I’ll feel in another ten years about my thoughts and beliefs now. How should this make me feel about these same views knowing as I do that they may be ridiculous in retrospect? It’s a big question and it’s these sorts of questions that all works of brilliance ask. The Furnished Room confronts us with the naive surety we hold so deeply when we first achieve a sense of independence. When we claim more than we know and will fight to the death in a barely conscious state of Sartrean Bad Faith to assert opinions that render criticism idiotic in the liminal world that produces them. We despair. We deny meaning to find meaning. We speak with nothing to say. The reason as to why we do this? We're young.

(Del Rivo with novelist 'Queen of Noir' Cathi Unsworth - circa 2016)

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Dear Falsetto,

Even though you've been gone a long time now, I do still think of you from time to time. I know I didn't treat you as well as I could have and that I hurt you but I had to make a decision and I couldn't help but make the one I did. I know this is why you left and I can only blame myself for your absence but I'd just like to say, wherever you are I hope you have a very happy Christmas and I wish you all the best in the new year.



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Savage Kick: You've been open about being admitted to the "madhouse" again. How many times have you been there and what it is like behind those closed doors? What does the place look like?

David Noone: Well I've had over 18 years worth of admissions at this point, Steve, so it must be something approaching 30 odd anyway. It's pretty nice in here to be honest. I'm lying on my bed as I write in a room I share with one other patient who I've met in here before, we've our own en-suite and shower which we unfortunately also have to share though that's hardly a complaint. If I were to walk out of my room and turn left there's the nurses' station and directly beyond that the smoking room. Can't really ask for much more really. There's also a coffee shop downstairs though that has little going for it apart from the cigarette machine.

SK: Is the process voluntary or does it involve "sectioning"?

DN: Generally people are voluntary here, though there are some who've been sectioned and would be on the high security ward which, from what I've heard, is a pretty fucking intense place to be.

SK: Who have been the most interesting patients you've shared the place with? What were they like?

DN: Back in 99 when I was 14 and in St. Edmundsbury (a sister hospital to St. Patrick's) I use to be sent in to Pat's to do what was called the "Young Adult Program." I met a guy in there who had once been a trainee psychiatrist but one night got the shit kicked out of him and set off his, obviously latent, paranoid schizophrenia. He was a fascinating bloke who once put Johnny Thunders up for the night and introduced me to the music of The Virgin Prunes as well as giving me copies of Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil, The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde and Huysman's A Rebour. There was a really fascinating collection of people that used to gather in Pat's coffee shop in those days or at least fascinating from the viewpoint of a 14 year old boy.

SK: Do you feel the treatment helps? Are the doctors effective?

DN: That's a difficult question to answer in some ways due to the complexity of the illness but I would say that "yes it does," for the most part. They're sort of forced into varying their usual techniques with me given how long I've been in the system and that I've read a shitload about them. Generally from within the hospital I work with them on a pharmacological level and leave is arranged so I can see my therapist who is not connected to the hospital. I've been working with her for over 10 years now so it's agreed it would be pointless and a waste of time for me to attend a psychologist working on the premises

SK: You've been diagnosed with dysphoria... which is (blithely) described as a "general dissatisfaction with life"... what drives that feeling?

DN: Well that's not my primary diagnosis, my primary diagnosis is, and has always been, recurrent depressive disorder however my current state has been diagnosed as a state of dysphoria. In one way that's a good thing in terms of this interview as The Malady (I'm Irish so I refuse to use Churchill's metaphor) comes and goes with a logic known only to itself. All that we know is that it's cyclical, appearing every 2/3 months or so with neither rhyme nor reason to it. The dysphoria on the other hand, I can't certainly tell you whether what fuels it is a by-product or exacerbated by The Malady. I know this: The death of broadsheet journalism, the rise over the course of the last decade of the society of distraction and the culture of unthink all serve to add to my feelings of unease and possible irrelevance in the current century. Let me first clarify what I mean by "unthink." I'm not referring to people blandly going about their day to day life without thinking I'm talking full on Orwellian re-education through the practice of what is ironically called Mindfulness. This pernicious and malefic thing preaches that to be "present" one must reduce oneself to nothing other than a sensory being and actually dismissing, verbally, the mind as nothing but a tool. If Kirkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger or Camus were around today they'd be weeping as they were marched to the gallows. So, yeah, that certainly drives a certain sense of unease particularly when as a writer my job is to make people think in a world that doesn't place any value on that practice.

SK: Do you feel there is any better hope for society? What would drive that?

DN: Fuck, man, I don't know if you're asking me that at the right time. I suppose maybe the best parable about life and how to survive is Camus' The Plague where you either find some form of subjective meaning or you lose the plot and start shooting the shit out of everything while getting yourself killed in the meantime. I vacillate between the two options depending on the day. As for society as a whole... I'll get back to you.

SK: Do you read back there? What are you reading and what other opportunities do you have to pass the time?

DN: I tend to inhale books in here. I've just finished Derek Raymond's He Died With His Eyes Open and loved it. Raymond has this wonderful take on crime and specifically crime which is not considered newsworthy. Living in a country where one in every four people has been sexually abused that seems important to me given that the Catholic Church were not responsible for the majority of those abuses but they make bigger headlines than Uncle Johnny fingering his 13 year old niece. To be honest, though, there are other activities to partake in... they're not for me so I read and smoke instead. I could be doing a lot worse with my time.

SK: "Chemical cosh" is an often unfair phrase used when it comes to mental health care. What are your experiences of dealing with anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs?

DN: That is a term used by people with absolutely no insight into psychiatric illness and an attitude that kills people. What I find ironic is that the majority who say that usually have absolutely no problem with having a drink could come up to this ward now and speak to any of the patients and they'd make a hell of a lot more sense than anyone you'd meet in the pub an hour before closing. Don't get me wrong there are still a few unscrupulous doctors out there who over medicate their patients to make their jobs easier but they've been getting found out and slowly removed from the service. My own experiences on meds are all positive except for a couple of misfires where unwanted side effects have occurred but once detected my docs have taken me off them as quickly as is safe.

SK: Your novella Saint of the City deals with psychosis drifting in and out of its anti-hero, Sean. To what extent was it based on your own experiences? Is Sean fully your alter-ego, or just a modified version of you?

DN: I don't really know if he's either to be honest. We've similar backgrounds, we've both been sick (thankfully I've never suffered from psychosis though... the anti-psychotics I have been and am currently on have sedative and mood stabilising properties), we've both worked in a bookshop and we've both lived in shitty flats around Ranelagh and Rathmines but I think there are a lot more differences than similarities between us. My relationships with women have been completely different for example. There's a bit more of the idiot Romantic in me than there is Sean and I think we're cynical about different kinds of things.

SK: In Saint of the City, Sean hallucinates about his ex-girlfriend who died via suicide. Again, are you mining personal experience? And to what extent does your confessional writing help or hinder your mental state?

DN: In that incidence, yes. I had a girlfriend who committed suicide a month shy of her 19th birthday, though she was nothing like Siobhan. I had thought about putting her in the dedication but it didn't seem appropriate. As far as catharsis goes I'm not sure, something done on a purely cathartic level on second look is usually shitty but then sometimes you do find an idea in there worth salvaging. Writing a long piece, however, can be frustrating as fuck and can regularly leave you exhausted so I tend to separate the two. Getting people thinking about things makes up for that of course but then look at my previous answer about dysphoria.

SK: In Cathi Unsworth's introduction to the book, she says how you felt she may find Sean unlikable. I've never felt this a factor in books... what's satisfying about writing about an anti-hero?

DN: I actually said that out of a certain sense of insecurity about the book as basically Sean's a prick but I wanted to show what some of the reasons behind that were and I wasn't certain if I'd managed that. I don't consider Sean an anti-hero in a lot of ways as I draw most of my inspiration from the Gothic Novel (I believe noir to be the Gothic Novel in 20th/21st century dress) which looks at ethical and psychological grey areas. None of us are without sin and very few are without virtue... well, apart from hippies.

SK: When are you getting out of the madhouse? And how do you feel about it?

DN: I honestly don't know. It's still early days really but the plan will be the same as always. Get back to the desk and get back banging away.

SK: And, lastly, what still gives you a buzz?

DN: Just the usual things everyone enjoys; intelligent conversation, a good book, B.D.S.M., and a warm bed. Nothing too extraordinary really.

from an interview with The Savage Kick 2017

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