Do you think it would be problematic. Obviously there's the organised crime element of the story, but also the issues surrounding the judiciary, which in particular in Italy at the moment is a highly contentious topic.
Well, in a sense, and rightly I think, I chose not to pay any attention to that when writing the novel. Ultimately I was writing a piece of fiction. Though I would say as well, that my reading of the Alessandro character is not that he's a corrupt – he becomes a corrupt human being and you need a subtle reading towards the end of the novel. Certainly if I was an Italian publisher I would find an Englishman coming and writing this stuff slightly problematic. But then again at the same time, in Italy there's a Prime Minister like Berlusconi, who seems basically amoral when it comes to the judiciary, and trials against him which have been pending for a number of years. Organised crime is an issue in Italy, in Naples, Sicily and throughout.
Outside of Italy, the camorra doesn't seem to be as widely known. Why, after your research, do you think that is?
I’d say that they're not as global. They don't have the American connection, that since at least the 1940's the Mafia have had. There's also the Godfather – a pre-eminent artwork all about the mafia. There's the whole way that Mafia as a word has been adopted and used worldwide, while of course it's not used necessarily in Sicily – you have this “Cosa Nostra” instead. The Camorra just hasn't really had, for want of a better word, the fictional advocate that the mafia has had. And, of course, it's a smaller organisation, and, in some senses, it's not as dangerous or as violent. For example, while they have their own internecine wars, they don't tend to kill judges, policemen etc. Massimo, for example, all he does all day is try members of the Camorra, but he lives a completely open and free life in Naples. In a sense, it's not as intense an experience as the mafia because they're not as big, they're not as powerful.
What writers do you admire, who would you list amongst your influences?
The writers I most enjoy tend to be 20th Century American novelists – the Urban Jewish novelists like Bellow and Roth. The problem is that there isn't really that tradition in England. The tradition is much more a kind of narrative based fiction. What I've appropriated in this novel, this tradition that hasn't necessarily been an influence on me but.. Some initial reviews of the novel likened it to Graham Greene – and it is like Greene, but it's not something I tried to do. Before my editors mentioned it to me, I'd never read any Greene. There's a certain similarity in the tradition – there's the Englishman abroad, and while he's very English, there's something very European about him as well. There's something of the existential in Greene's characters, and that's what I'm trying to achieve, and if I've managed that, well then my work is done! (laughs)
It's interesting that you mention Greene, because with him there's so often a sense of Catholicism, fate, morality, all mixed against these foreign backgrounds. Would you say that Betrayal in Naples is a
moralistic novel? The betrayals in the novel seem to be the complex results of moral choices throughout. Would you say you're a moralist?
Yes, I would. What's interesting is there was a review of the novel on Poison Pen, an American crime fiction web site, and it said that the protagonist of the novel lacked a moral compass – that he doesn't understand consequence, and I just didn't understand that – I don't recognise what novel they were reading. In retrospect, I think it is a moral novel, and Jim (the narrator) is a moral character. There's an existential problem – he can't escape himself. He splits down the middle – he knows he has a moral duty to help Giovanna, and on the other hand his passion and desire for Louisa is clearly seen in his eyes as a betrayal. For me, what's interesting in the novel is that all his life Jim has wanted to do what is morally the right thing, but ultimately desire gets in the way. We can all aspire to be moral beings, but we can't escape ourselves, and passion and desire is ultimately so strong – and stronger than what is in the end an artificial construct, to be moral. It is a moral book, but without the overweening Catholicism of Graham Greene.