Having written a blog on Confessions of the Antichrist, a novel by Addison Hodges Hart (Angelico Press, £14.50), I was curious to find out more about this treatment of a fascinating subject. I asked Hart what had given him the idea of writing on such an unusual theme. He tells me that many things “converged and contributed to the writing of it”. Originally an idea for a satirical sketch, a “much more elaborate story grew in the telling. I had no definite plan for where it would all lead.”
He reminisces, “When I began the first version about ten years ago, I was going through a rough patch in my life and writing it was a therapeutic diversion. Something of that time is reflected in the angst the main protagonist exhibits as he struggles with realisations about himself. On one level, it’s a novel about a psychological and moral crisis.” Hart adds that his novel’s “Gothic” atmosphere came to him in his dreams and nightmares; He has incorporated his own dream imagery throughout the book, certain that they “contain seeds of creativity in them.”
The novel deals with questions of destiny and decision. Hart comments, “The Devil is frequently depicted as a creature of lust, rage and sheer hatred. “My” devil is of a cool patient, rational nature, but also inwardly conflicted, intellectually confused, capable of great cruelty in the style of a Mengele or a Pavlov – the sort of person who could dispassionately dissect someone without anaesthesia just to see what makes him tick.”
Has he been influenced by other literature in this genre? Hart thinks his story “resembles the rather surrealistic novels of GK Chesterton, such as The Man Who Was Thursday and The Ball and the Cross. CS Lewis’s’ fiction – including Screwtape – also comes to mind, since he was writing lively, imaginative works that were also reflections on faith, morality, temptation and so on.” Umberto Eco, Jung, especially his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Kafka and Peter Ackroyd are also mentioned.
Hart adds that his novel is meant to be satirical, “influenced by the thriller genre. “There is humour in places, alongside the “Gothic horror” aspect, which provides the dominant atmosphere. Perhaps there I could cite such influential writers as MR James and EF Benson”. He points out three particular influences: “Dante, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Lewis Carroll, references to whose writings are ubiquitous.”
I want to know if the novel has a didactic purpose and Hart responds, “’Didactic’ may not be the right word. The book, first and foremost is meant to entertain and then – I hope – to provoke. By that, I mean it should keep the reader off-balance and leave him there at the end, asking questions about the sort of world we live in and about our own complicity in the messiness around us.” Hart hopes that the book will “lead the reader to think about Christ in an unexpected and possibly different way than the familiar and customary ways we more typically regard him.” He reflects, “I want this story to be unsettling and to provoke interior reflection and self-directed questions.”
What kind of readership does he hope for? Hart responds promptly: “Readers of all kinds, particularly those who like a fantasy that leaves them thinking. Christian readers will, I hope, find it challenging, but also those of other faiths, no faith or who are agnostic about faith. It’s meant to be funny in places, unnerving in others and a page-turner.”
Has he further works of fiction in mind? He tells me he is currently working on a book on the mysteries of the Rosary along with his wife, a Catholic iconographer. He would like to “turn my attention exclusively to fiction and I have in mind other stories, also of a fantastic – even macabre – bent.” He adds, “I’m 64, so I had better get these written while I can.”
His final thought is that one of the themes in the novel is “the nature of the kingdom of God, specifically how its inherent principles differ radically from the “kingdoms” of our age. This is a theme that I’ve previously addressed in my “didactic” books, such as Strangers and Pilgrims Once More: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World. In fact, given that some of these same points are made by him with disdain in Confessions of the Antichrist, I suspect the Devil may have read those books and hated them.”
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