Interview with shortlisted author Khalid Al-Nassrallah
Where were you when the shortlist was announced? What was your reaction?
I was getting ready to take a nap after a long day’s work when calls and messages from friends and colleagues started coming in. I realized that the novel was shortlisted before answering any calls or reading any messages because the prize administration had set the announcement day beforehand. As for my reaction, I was delighted with the congratulations and beautiful sentiments my loved ones surrounded me with. And I knew then that the novel would receive a lot of attention from readers in the next phase.
Most of your literary works are inventive and experimental. Tell us about your interest in experimenting in writing fiction.
I seek to make an addition and to experiment on the narrative level. Also, by digging deep in bumpy and unfamiliar areas in terms of subject matter, I rely on the instinct of the good reader who can deal with styles that I think are new, or with my attempts in this field. I think that art should create new forms to offer texts that can keep up with today’s reader.
There are many stories in the novel. There is the copy editor’s story, there is the novel he is writing, and also secondary stories involving other characters. What is your process for writing all the novel’s different stories, particularly as they intersect at the end?
The novel took me two or more years to write. During this time, its characters, setting and world were fermenting in my head. Because writing is a daily commitment, the events come at all times and during any situation. And from there, the main stories create smaller stories and the novel slowly blooms and matures and this act of coming together—which surprises me, the writer, as much as any reader—happens. The story is the main sustenance of the novel and it is the element that the reader counts on more than others.
The White Line of the Night can be described as a novel of contradictions, from the title to the main character who does one thing and its opposite at the same time. Are these contradictions the driving force of the plot?
Opposites are a common feature in literary works and can take many forms. The White Line of the Night presented a conflict between two polar opposites, the liberal and the conservative, the government and the opposition, the rebel and the conformist. There is also another kind of conflict - the copy editor’s inner conflict. In his reality and imagination, in accepting and rejecting his job, in acquiescing to or resisting state institutions. As such the story is driven by these small, big conflicts, that begin with gentle winds and end with a devastating hurricane.
What is the significance of the title?
A kind of small resistance that relies on the pen - “the line” - as a weapon that can create a rift through the night’s sweeping darkness. Whereas the preposition “of” suggests that the resistance originated from the night itself. The language of the title might seem poetic, which is a departure from the titles of my other novels, and it is connected to culture one way or another.
Some critics see the novel as having Kafkaesque vibes, while others said it reminded them of Paul Auster’s works. To which family of novels do you think The White Line of the Night belongs?
It belongs to itself. But literary works are often woven of similar threads, that sometimes intersect and overlap. What matters is that it presents its cause in the best way possible. Every novelist has to change colours as the text requires, whether at the level of the language or the presentation. In any case, a novelist does not keep in mind such considerations when he finds the ideal form to present his novel. This is something the critic takes on later by categorizing and explaining the work, using his tools.
Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Ismail Fahd Ismail, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, José Saramago. This is not to say that I haven’t been influenced by others. But these three names changed my outlook on writing fiction.
What are you currently reading?
These days I am reading about Babylonian mythology and a collection of short stories by Spanish writer Julia Otxoa.