While I’m waiting to hear about my second novel, House of Zealots, I’m working hard on number three – The Library of Babel. I’m doing it as part of an MA at UWA, under the supervision of Dr Van Ikin.
Here’s how I describe the novel in my initial proposal:
The creative work I am proposing for my MA is a novel called “The Library of Babel”, its title borrowed from the short story by Jorge Luis Borges, with reference back to the biblical story of human striving and hubris. It is a magic realist work influenced by Geoff Nicholson and Paul Auster, intertwining the themes of mortality, success and the idea of the library.
The novel is set in a Perth with an alternate history. Early in the twentieth century, a wealthy industrialist named Benjamin Abel builds the world’s largest library in Perth. As part of Abel’s quest for immortality, it sets out to collect everything ever published and preserve everything it can, especially things to do with Abel’s life. By the present day, it dominates Perth, controlling media and publishing, but is mired in decay and inefficiency. It is the Kafkaesque bureaucracy glimpsed in The Castle, only fleshed out.
The protagonist, Henry, enters the library as a cadet. His secret mission is to write a biography of Abel exposing the truth about the man – now a super-centenarian – and his control of the state, his obsession with immortality and his suppression of dissent. For Henry, it is an opportunity to achieve the success which eluded him in the poor reception of his first novel. Yet surrounded by millions of books by forgotten authors, his whole quest is relativised. His predicament is worsened as he realises chasing success threatens both his marriage (as books become more important than his wife) and his integrity (as Abel befriends and tempts him).
The novel is also about the beauty and wonders of this strange library and its treasures, including lost manuscripts of sequels to books like The Catcher in the Rye and heads of celebrities kept in preserving jars hidden in the storerooms of the library.
I had a short story from it published in Studio: a journal of christians writing recently; it’s called “A Week in the Library of Babel” and you can download it either below or on my ‘stories’ page: