Interview – 1 book in 5 questions : Three Bullets

An interview with R.J. Ellory about  : 

Three Bullets

English cover

French cover

My review (in French)

With this novel, you revisit (and modify) the past with one of the most significant events of the 20th century…

After the last book was complete, I had a meeting with my UK editor. He asked me if there was any particular event, individual, social occurrence or cultural issue that I would like to write about. I had written about the Mafia, the CIA, the FBI, the KKK, the death penalty, serial killers, Hoover, Hollywood, Nixon, Watergate, the Vietnam War and other subjects. I mentioned Kennedy, of course, but said that it wasn’t really something I wanted to deal with as it had been written about by so many people. There are films, TV series, documentaries, novels, works of non-fiction, and it seemed like a subject that was buried under too much theory and conspiracy and supposition. My editor then said, ‘Well, maybe you could look at it in a different way…in a way that has never been done before.’ I thought about it on the way home. I knew about Kennedy’s father from ‘Kings of America’ and ‘A Quiet Vendetta’. I knew that the family was corrupt and criminal in so many ways. And I also knew about JFK’s medical condition, his affairs, his addiction to drugs etc. I then started to wonder what would have happened if Kennedy had not been assassinated, if the truth would ever have been exposed about what he was really like, and that was the beginning of the book.

You take on the JFK’s myth. You show how much the dreamt public image of a man killed brutally is often very different from reality…

Well, it is a myth. Like the myth of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Hendrix and Joplin and so many others. It seems that when someone dies tragically young, we preserve the memory of them as something sacred. We only want to look at how we imagined them to be. We don’t want to see their flaws, their faults, the dark side of the personality. We only want to see the imagined iconic figure. It’s the same with Kennedy. He was a serial adulterer, a drug addict, a deeply-troubled man who evidenced psychoses in many areas of his life, but we don’t want to see that. We want to remember him as this tragic hero who gave his life in the name of freedom and liberty. We forget about Cuba, about the Berlin Wall, about the corruption and blackmail that put him in the White House. We don’t want to look at the way he abused his wife and violated the integrity of his marriage. We all have a dark side, of course, but here was an opportunity to look at the dark side of one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, and it was very fascinating.

Your book is political, it dissects the machinery of power in the United States during the 60s. Besides, we notice that a lot of things haven’t changed…

Plus ça change, right? It’s been the same story for decades, for hundreds of years. Absolute power has the potential to corrupt absolutely. The individual in the Oval Office is a façade, a character, a face for the political machine. The President of the United States does not make decisions alone, of course. The national decisions are made by industrialists, bankers, financiers, drug company executives, the media. This is where the power lies, because this is where the money comes from. If you look at the campaign funding for any national electoral candidate, you will see where the candidate has made agreements. It is those ‘debts’ that have to be paid when the candidate is then elected into power, so future political decisions will be influenced in such a way as to ‘repay’ those who paid for the campaign. This is where the manufacturing and construction contracts go, where you find approval for certain drugs, where you see bank debts written off etc. It is a nest of corruption and vested interest and personal advantage. I think that has been the story of politics for as long as politics has existed. What is happening now is really no different.

But it’s also a story of fallen love…

Of course, there has to be a love story! There is a love story in every book I write. Hearts get broken, people make mistakes, people regret and they try to change a past that can never be changed. This, for me, is what gives life to characters and makes them real. For me, this is the reason that people write to me about the characters in my books as if they are real people. We want them to be real, and they are, and that is what makes the whole business of storytelling so exciting and rewarding. If no one ever got emotionally engaged and involved with the characters, then there would be no story!

Your research work must have been impressive. But we feel that you have been very careful to integrate your findings into your fiction to keep up the pace…

Yes, of course. A great deal of research is done, and a huge amount of the things I find out about never go into the book because then it would cease to be a work of fiction and it would become a historical textbook. For me, non-fiction’s primary purpose is to convey information, whereas the purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotion in the reader. So, when I’m writing, I try not to get too fixated in the history and facts. I work towards the evocation of an emotional effect really, whether it be anger, frustration, love, hate, sympathy etc. The books that I remember, all the way back to things I read as a child, are the books that hooked me emotionally; those books where I identified with the central character, perhaps identified with a conflict they were going through, an emotional journey they were making. So the storyline, the narrative and what is happening with the characters on an emotional and psychological level is the most important thing, and the history of events is the backdrop, the mise en scène. The facts are there to create the tone and the environment, and then the characters play their parts on that stage. I just try to put enough in there so the reader really appreciates the political and social climate enough to understand what is happening with the characters, how they act, how they think, and why they do the things they do.

Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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