Guest blogger Jake Arnott is a British novelist whose fourth book, The House of Rumour, was praised by Kirkus Reviews for "combin[ing] the pleasures of genre fiction and the thematic richness of literary
fiction, while blurring the line between the two and exploding the very
concept of genre." Arnott also counts rock legend David Bowie among his fans.
Nearly two and a half centuries ago, Socrates argued
against the written form, claiming that it would erode the art of memory and
verbal debate. Writing, he is quoted as saying, "weakens the mind,
relieving it of work that makes it strong." He saw this new information
technology as a challenge to his cherished medium of rhetoric and memorization.
All cultural forms begin as a bewildering invention.
Poetry emerged as a mnemonic device for the oral transmission of story and
genealogy before written records. Art always starts as information technology
and often has a simple, practical root: Hebrew is read from right to left because
its first manifestation was in carved inscription—the driving hammer was held
in the right hand and the chisel in the left. The scroll still used in
synagogues, though ancient, has a clear relation to how we access text in the
modern age—we’ve all become used to "scrolling" down a screen. The
book, as we know it, is only about 2,000 years old. And what a leap that was: a
bound codex that could store more information by using both sides of the page.
It allowed for multiple rather than sequential access to any section. It was portable
and easier to catalogue.
The invention of paper and the printing press—each new
enhancement in the machinery of literacy—must have seemed astonishing. And with
the acceleration of the reproduction of words or images, always the fear that
this might diminish our understanding of them.
My new novel takes its structure from the 22 Trumps of
the Tarot deck, a series of archaic characters that form a narrative of sorts. The House of Rumour is a series of
interlocking stories (which sounds very postmodern but is as old as the 1001 Nights), and I needed a central
conceit that might hold it together.
In his masterpiece, Metamorphoses, Ovid describes a point from which all can be seen
and heard, where a tower of sounding bronze hums and echoes, circulating
stories from around the world. This is the "House of Rumour," a
global hub of information, a network of reference and hearsay. It’s a
2,000-year-old description of the Internet. It gave me the title and central
concept of my novel, as well as further proof of how ancient knowledge anticipates
House of Rumour
plays with fact and fiction; it’s a secret history of the 20th century, a
thrilling tale of spies and propagandists, of dreamers, fanatics, and the
heartbroken. Read it on Kindle, in hardback, and who knows what’s next.