Friday, 29 August 2014

The Black Death of the Modern Age

In the autumn of 2008 a special crime case was all over the news in Norway. It concerned several well-known persons from my hometown: the coastal city of Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway, the city I, somewhat exaggeratingly, have labelled ‘the richest city in the world’; an untrue phrase that feels true.

The case came to be known as The Baasland Case. In short it went like this: Bjarte Baasland, the son of the respected Stavanger bishop Ernst Baasland, had a debt amounting to more than 60 million Norwegian kroners (6 million GBP). Over the last few years he had been gambling on the internet and, operating with false identities, he had swindled his mother, his father, his family and the whole Christian community. And suddenly this strange prince of internet darkness went down. His bubble burst, the lies became too many to handle; it became dangerous.

Now, See You Tomorrow, the novel I had begun writing, does not deal with the problems of the religious upper class. But what was interesting to me was that just when this case emerged, I was writing a novel about a little man from the huge Norwegian middle class who was about to ruin his – and his daughters’ – life as a result of internet gambling. My character, Pål, was a man like you and me.

But still, the chillingly fascinating and gruesomely dark tale of the lonely son of a bishop and his fall into colossal debt inspired me as it covered page after page in the papers during those months. It was as if my emerging novel had a twin, or a shadow; it was almost like an assurance that what I was dealing with could really happen, and my Pål became something of a twin brother to Bjarte Baasland. All of the parallels made me confident that I was writing about something real, something strong and acute.

For me it started with that damned internet. I love it, like everyone else, and I enjoy the new pace of life it brings. I am glad that I can get instant access to the new songs by my favourite bands, even though I sometimes get nostalgic for the times when I had to wait for weeks before the 7’ arrived in my local record store. But I also hate it. Really, really hate it. And there’s one thing in particular that has bothered me for years, which I am sure has inspired See You Tomorrow in a way that I cannot fully cover. Gambling is as old as the hills; novels have been written about the subject for ages, even good old Dostoyevsky wrote one (himself also a considerable gambler). But these days it is something else. You do not enter a saloon or a gambling hall. All you need is that one click.

The loneliness of the internet.
            We’re all sitting there. It’s such a bleak situation.
            Gambling in the night.
            Man and machine. Access to everything. And nothing.

I do not have the right words for this, not even now, after six years of writing a novel about a man who destroys everything with the aid of that damned internet. But I think everybody knows what I mean. It’s addictive. It gives us the feeling of being there, all the time.
But we’re not.
            It just feels that way.
            It’s all loneliness. It’s all lies. It’s all crap.
            And – Pål and Bjarte – you do not get rich from it.
            It just feels that way.
            It drags you by the hair to hell.

I have a friend in my novel. I will admit that. Rudi, the petty criminal with ADHD and a pounding heart for heavy metal is the strongest enemy the internet has out there. He calls it ‘The Black Death of the Modern Age’. In one scene in the book he is approached by our sorry hero, Pål, who contacts him for help with his desperate debt. Here is Rudi’s reply:

‘Remember: the internet is the root of all evil. So don’t you go turning on that computer now, dude! Set aside a little time with a few good records instead. The Number of the Beast! Overkill! Sabbath Bloody Sabbath! Or what do I know; maybe you listen to Coldplay when nobody’s around? … Okay, brother. See you tomorrow!’

See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg is published by Arcadia Books, £14.99 hardback

You can find more information about Tore Renberg and his writing on his website.  He can also be found on Facebook and you can follow him on Twitter @ToreRenberg.

No comments: