I have known James Darke for a mere five years - since 2017, when I saw him at his keyboard, Googling local handymen and adding to the search criteria, the word taciturn. I knew him, I understood him, immediately. Or so I thought. The paradox is that it has taken three volumes of autobiography for this anti-social misanthrope to explain and develop his contrarian - oppositional is the word used - life and lifestyle.
I have known Rick for rather longer, since 1987. And yes, he is also “bookish”, a man of letters, someone for whom books - reading them, writing them, trading them - has been both the business and the pleasure of his life. In the process, he has arrived, as has James, at some judgements of writers which are not mainstream; in fact, might be perceived as being deliberately against the mainstream.
It is tempting, when one knows both author and his character, to read the book with an expectation, even a hope, of finding parallels between the two. (I did so in After Darke when reminded of a weekend at Goddards, a Lutyens house in Surrey, to which James takes his family.) That such parallels exist throughout the Darke trilogy is incontrovertible, but they are irrelevant, even misleading, because James springs into our world fully formed with that single and singular addition to his search criteria.
That was five years ago. And into those five years is condensed an extraordinarily diverse series of events. I am trying to avoid spoilers, but it is noteworthy how his grief in the first volume has been mitigated by genuine wit in the third. Not cynicism; not sarcasm. He is no longer angry, even if he continues to be ‘oppositionsl’.
For example: The attempted hoax on the publishing trade is a fine conceit - a witty concept, wittily executed. And perhaps it is prompted by the author’s own experiences with agents and editors and publishers, which goes back to 1998 and the publication of Staying Up.
Or perhaps not. Only James Darke knows and he won’t tell, because we have come to the end of this chapter, this novel, this trilogy.
I, for one, will miss him. Immensely.
Today from the everysmith vaults: A random choice from the Rough & Rowdy Ways Tour from LA last month. A special delight is the encore, a fine version of Friend of the Devil.