Another nail in the coffin: Michael Cunningham on the loneliness of finishing A Home at the End of the World (Penguin pounds 5.99)

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The Independent Culture
I WORKED on A Home at the End of the World, for slightly more than six years, and it's taken me most of the past year to get used to the idea of not writing it any more. The characters infected my life. Even my lover started to dream about them. I'd believed I was living for the moment I'd be free of them, and then when I truly was free it seemed like my characters had died, and that the finished book with its glossy cover contained their ashes. I know a writer is supposed to drink champagne out of somebody's shoe the day his book arrives on the stands, but as I recall I drank a little tea laced with Scotch and went to bed. The characters were gone. I was alone inside my head again.

A Home at the End of the World essentially involves three people who are intricately in love with one another. Jonathan is a gay man who loves his male friend Bobby and his female friend Clare. Clare loves Jonathan and decides to have a child with Bobby. Bobby's romantic, largely asexual raptures hold the other, darker characters in orbit.

Reduced like that, it sounds like something you'd buy in an airport. This is the danger of synopsis. This is the trouble with finishing anything. As long as you're working on it it's an entire world, and then one day you write the final sentence and realise all you've got here, really, is a story. Just one story, and you'd wanted to write down everything you know.

I'd be lying if I pretended that the book's reception hasn't been gratifying. I'm glad it's found readers, and especially that its reach has extended beyond the United States to nine other countries. But more than anything, I'm pleased that the mail I've had about it has come from gay people and straight people alike.

I wanted A Home at the End of the World to be read by gay people but I also wanted it to have meaning for people who are no more likely to sleep with a member of the same sex than they are to renounce their possessions and go on a pilgrimage.

So it's turned out to be a better experience than I'd believed it to be last November, when all I could manage to feel was bereaved and vaguely cheated. I'm working on a new one now. I'm beginning to torment myself and my lover with a new group of characters. Now, instead of Bobby and Clare and Jonathan, I walk around New York muttering about Will and Zoe and Mary and Constantine.

You get haunted. I didn't think it would be like this. The pleasure is in the writing itself, and it's a tricky, wind-blown pleasure that'll turn on you with one bad phrase. But the awful part, the sneak attack, is finishing. Surprise. It's a book now, no more or less. It's another nail in your coffin.

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