Wednesday, September 30, 2015

North Melbourne Books October Newsletter - featuring Mark Dapin

In the October edition of the North Melbourne Books Newsletter we talk to British born, Australian author Mark Dapin about his extraordinary new novel, R & R. Set in the R & R town of Vung Tau during the Vietnam War, it's both comic and violent in equal measure. A truly gripping read, it's one of our favourite novels for this year.

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North Melbourne Books talks to Mark Dapin

North Melbourne Books: R&R is set in 1967, in the town of Vung Tau, which is miles away from the front line of the Vietnam War. The novel centres for the most part around the misdeeds and antics of three military men -  John “Nashville” Grant, an American military policeman, his ingenuous Australian partner “Shorty” and the violently unpredictable Sergeant TJ Caution. Where did the inspiration come from to write the story?

Mark Dapin: I thought of the plot while I was researching my military history book, The Nashos’ War (Penguin 2014). An Australian Vietnam vet told me that in Vung Tau in a storm, corpses would come out of the rainsoaked soil and float into town. R&R opens with a scene in which a disinterred dead body ends up in a bar, having a drink and a smoke, and is subsequently shot by a US police sergeant. A certain amount of debate ensues as to whether it is a crime to shoot someone who is already dead.

NMB: The novel is full of the type of black comedy that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. The scenes with the naive Shorty, who tries to make amends for his lack of sexual experience, are hilarious. Was it important to you to try and inject a lot of humour into the novel?

MD: Yeah, it’s supposed to be a funny book. I’ve been a bit baffled that, in some quarters, it has been taken for social realism. Corpses don’t really get taken into bars, see? On the other hand, it has seriously literary intent. It’s a book about moral choices.

NMB: Two of the main characters, Nashville and Sergeant TJ Caution, are confronting and violent. Psychologically they’d probably be described as borderline psychopaths. How did you get inside their heads to tell their story?

MD: Caution is a sociopath. Nashville is just somebody who’s good at violence and realises he enjoys it too much. I have met quite a few mad blokes who were good at violence. I’m interested in the way they justify themselves, which is also a concern of R&R.

NMB: R&R reads as a portrait of disturbed men in wartime trying to survive in a hostile foreign environment . What does the novel mean to you?

MD: Hopefully, it means a commercial breakthrough. My books are always very well reviewed, get nominated for awards etc, but they’re not exactly bestsellers. It’d be nice if this one was actually read.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

MD: Nothing. I don’t really have time to read. But I enjoyed listening to extracts from the work of Ellen Van Neerven, Chris Flynn, Lian Hearn and the slam poet Zohab Zee Khan, when we toured country NSW together in August.