Could you explain the title of your new novel, Lights Out in Wonderland?
The book is an allegory on a number of levels. The wonderland is symbolic in various ways. It refers to our free market wonderland where the lights are dimming owing to recession; people can see that these ideas have holes in them. The novel's main character is looking for the most decadent party he can find. My own wonderland would be on a university campus, in the bar, on the day that the next generation of thinker came up with the seeds of a new way forward. That would be a hell of a day. Governments and political parties have immune systems which stop them governing well. It's the first time in history that we don't have a government but a management team, consultants. We're living in a time where ideology doesn't have a place. We're living in a vacuum. But great ideas can't be stopped.
Limbo is an important concept in your writing.
Writing is a limbo. We're in a limbo as a country, which is what the book is about. Our triumphs are long behind us and the next excitement hasn't appeared yet. I myself was in a limbo between the second novel and what came next and in the meantime, the market for books in English is shifting really quickly and there's a no-man's land. Lights Out in Wonderland completes a loose trilogy of books that I wanted to be a comic snapshot of the first decade of the millenium, with observations of how mad things are, seen from various points of view. They all share that structure of in-betweenness, of limbo. They each kick off with a cataclysmic event, and then a flight and escape, trying to find what comes next, and a resolution, and what tools in the modern day can help us out. It's exactly the same with me - I had the Booker on my back out of nowhere, all of it happened really quickly and in an extreme way. I had to establish a philosophical position in relation to that - whether that I've made it and don't have to do anything anymore or that it's a huge duty. It was a massive bugbear that I've only recently worked out - this book was almost a purging of circumstances. I feel more like a writer only now. It feels much better, more grounded now. The Booker plucked me like a leaf in the wind.
Your prose style is strikingly energetic. What do you make of the current state of the English language?
We're expressing less and less, which is a point made in the book. Of course language is a very mobile thing, but it's abbreviating radically now and I'm concerned that we're unable to express subtleties and depths to quite the extent that we could. You read something from the 19th century expressing things in a beautiful and complex way. We're much more subtle beings than we appear on Twitter. I admire, for instance, Thomas Mann and Flaubert, who also have fun with language and make it very beautiful. We're in a very cynical time at the moment. It would be fantastic to find a form to nail sentiments on a larger scale. We've become so immune to sensational things and hyberbole in the everyday.
Is writing a compulsion for you?
It's a compulsion, definitely. I work on the theory that we live in a stupid time. We've had some real dickheads in governments. We've had neurotics and psychotics. It's been a time that's moved away from reason and one of the ways it's done this is to become parental of us, suggesting that somehow there is an achievable, balanced, healthy way to live which they can broker to us - if we do what they say. I work on the theory that to a greater or lesser extent we're all subject to demons. The human condition is subject to that. To lose weight, give up drinking, smoking - we're all trying to stop so many hundreds of things, not admitting that we're given to demons. I am possessed by inner demons. The way to deal with them is feed them little doses in the idea that I will keep them away from much bigger things. I will drink to excess on occasion. The point is that I'm feeding these animals little doses of stuff. It keeps the dangerous thing at bay. Sometimes, it feels like I'm the only one on the street with a human condition because everyone's given everything up. But it's like water - you squeeze it one way, it pops out somewhere else. We need a much wider tolerance of ourselves as humans.
"Lights Out in Wonderland" is published by Faber & Faber (£20)