Interview with longlisted author Bachir Mefti
When did you begin writing The Mingling of the Seasons and where did the inspiration for it come from?
A year after the publication of my novel Game of Happiness, I had a new idea for a novel which would be different at least in terms of the content and story.
It was a crazy idea, and after I got down to writing, I found myself completely absorbed in it, as if I was entering a world new to me – the world of the character who is a killer – even though I have written many novels about the 1990s civil war in Algeria, when killing was both abundant and cruel. We lived through an extremely violent time in Algeria. But in The Mingling of the Seasons, it was slightly different. There, the killing is not for reasons of political ideology or religion. It is killing for killing’s sake, to fulfil an inner desire revealed to the central protagonist - to whom I haven’t given a specific name - in childhood, and it develops gradually as time passes. In the 1990s, the hero finds a legal way to indulge this desire by joining the security forces. When the war stops and he is retired, he becomes a hired killer, until he meets a woman and becomes close to her, and for the first time, practices killing for her sake. The story is narrated by various central characters, among which the killer’s voice is most prominent. Through him, Algeria in recent decades is revealed. After the war comes the period of psychological/symbolic pressure on the opposition, through threats or marginalization, and the dominance of the logic of force over intellect, tyranny over freedom. The price is paid for big dreams which are frustrated every time.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
Thinking about it took longer than the actual writing, which didn’t take long. There was some to-ing and fro-ing before the novel reached its final form. I would write some chapters, then go away and ignore them, and come back and start again from the beginning, until I felt that I had hit the mark I was aiming for.
I write in my house, in complete isolation, living the novel from the inside. It is with me in my daily life, even when I go out to work or to do some necessary tasks. With time, I have begun to feel that writing really does require complete absorption and careful organisation. It’s not a mere spewing out of scattered thoughts onto paper.
How have readers and critics received it?
The novel has received a warm welcome from readers and critics alike and many in-depth articles have been written about it. I was pleased by the concentration on the philosophical dimension in the novel, and the discussion of the subject of evil dealt with in a fictional work as a literary and philosophical matter. They also remarked on some of the psychological and symbolic aspects, as well as the novel’s belonging to several literary genres, such as the philosophical crime novel and even the political novel, and technical aspects such as polyphony, use of multiple voices, etc.
What is your next project after this novel?
I have written a new novel called Alone at Night. It revolves around three main characters: a publisher who wants to publish good literary works after his retirement, a pessimistic author who writes without hope of obtaining recognition for his work, and an Algerian exile who has changed his name and lived for a long time in Australia. This person finds himself face to face with his Algerian past, in the form of someone who makes him reconnect with that painful period in his life, and he writes a long letter in which he explains his story.