I’m not a great fan of singling out one character to be a touchstone of integrity – this often seems to me too arbitrary and sanitary as a register - or of forced upbeat endings. Herzog, one of the best novels written in the past fifty years, was almost ruined for me by the forced false ending. There was no imminent possibility of pastoral peace for Herzog. That was a lie.
Magnus’ prophecy at the beginning of the book realizes itself at the end. He is the spirit of the place – so by betraying him any character is also betraying this spirit of place - but I also wanted to show him as being an outmoded principle – partly through his own shirkings and partly through an upsurge of decadence in the times in which we live. In a way it’s Magnus’ time that is past.
The exemplary voice of That Time was always meant to be the setting, the natural habitat – which is why all the descriptive passages of place contain an unrelenting lyrical evocation of beauty. The setting offers vast possibilities of connection, of kinship, of transcendence. The characters though, in the romantic tradition, have all created a world of their own and will not refrain from following spectres and illusions. They disdain the principle of pollen. This was my point of departure. It’s meant as essentially a satirical novel but unlike most modern satirical novels which depict the external world as vulgar and fallen, I’ve tried to create, in part, an exemplary natural world which ought to help heighten powers of empathy and creative understanding but instead is used by the characters as little more than a flattering backdrop for their narcissistic monologues. Essentially I brought modern London to an unspoilt place of immense romantic possibility. It’s my La Dolce Vita. Though the book does not possess a simple code which, if decrypted, will spell out the entire meaning of the text, it does abide by a number of dictums, one of which is the natural living world consistently being ignored or mocked as a touchstone. In fact everyone is warring with nature – but neither do I want to suggest they are entirely wrong to do so.
I think people will have different ideas about which character should be developed more. This is the realm of personal taste. To my mind though, in depth character studies don’t belong in this novel. It’s very much a theatrical novel, shifted through its paces by dialogue. And its time span is very brief. I didn’t want inner voices. (It’s a bit old hat anyway, this business of finding psychological motive). Every character is deliberately limited to the personality he or she has romantically created for themselves. And this personality is always a suit of armour. It forsakes natural springs, the tides of the sea. Everyone is using personality to deflect or cheat sexuality, nature. I kind of sense you’re asking for one or two characters to be more likeable but though I’m aware that none of them are going to inspire unadulterated love I’m not sure that any of them are quite as despicable as you seem to have viewed them, perhaps with the exceptions of Gavin and Rory who of course are slightly caricatured villains. Essentially though it’s the tone, the writing itself, the weave that has to “likeable”. I didn’t mean the text as a whole to be cynical and I don’t think it is. It’s meant more as social criticism, as a criticism of modern romanticism which is essentially just the fluff and feathers.
As for the gambling, I would argue that there’s no need for any precedent. It was essentially a pastime, a card game and Jake was being competitive in front of an audience of attractive girls – all perfectly within his nature. It’s not as if he’s suddenly become a hardened gambler or that his character suddenly succumbs to an unlikely alchemy. His father’s most treasured possession is the pool table – a symbol of male competiveness. The gambling scene shows him, like everyone else, to be incapable of empathy, which is the touchstone of a truly romantic spirit. Romanticism without creative vision is perhaps merely a narcissistic philosophy of life. And I sense that’s what we have nowadays. Hence Magnus, who alone does have a creative vision, is part of the time that is past.