Alastair Bruce interviewed

12 Jun 2017

Q: A couple of reviewers of your novel Wall of Days (2010) have read Robben Island into Bran?s place of exile, but it seems to me that there might be more convincing sites of reference, namely Cruso?s island in J. M. Coetzee?s novel Foe, and of course Robinson Crusoe?s. It also seems to me that you write back more directly to Crusoe, at least in the first section of Wall of Days, than to Coetzee. In your view, are any of these opinions credible? A: Certainly Cruso?s and Crusoe?s islands were references for me. It was many years ago that I read Robinson Crusoe but it is one of those texts that one knows even if one has not read it, or not read it for a long time. In Coetzee?s island I was struck by how Cruso did not cultivate it and instead laid out stones on fields, and was generally content with the island and his story as it was. It?s a different way of being to the Protestant work ethic of the older text. Possibly the island in Wall of Days is somewhere inbetween. Bran is concerned with naming, categorizing, mapping but it may be more about controlling or understanding his destiny than with making it yield its riches. Bran, like Cruso, appears content with island life but is revealed to be anything but. Another island that is equally relevant to the novel as a whole is the penal colony of Kafka?s short story. The rational brutality of the killing machine and the prophecy on the tombstone of the old commandant are themes explored in the novel. Q: I was intrigued by one particular contrast between Robinson Crusoe and Wall, despite their commonalities. Bran initially paces about his island, classifying and enumerating its flora and fauna, and taking possession of what he can use. In this way the tale echoes narratives of colonialism, but with a key difference, namely that the colonial project initiated an expansion of the European world, discovering and taking possession of vaster spaces, and through conquest broadcasting its episteme. Bran?s world, however, is contracted. There is less and less earth on which to live, and his island is in danger of being drowned. Is this ecological focus principally a narrative mechanism to create and justify Bran?s past and future, or can it be read as a political metaphor, for example, of the weakening influence of the colonising nations? How do you see the linkages between ecology and politics?