Unity

2

I’ll start this story with – Facebook … and with me. It won’t be ‘me, me, me story’ but I’ve got to insert some of myself in it as a narrator and as a protagonist.

I joined Facebook a few years ago. I was reluctant to get involved with such ‘a nuisance’ but my ever-practical daughter gave me two absolutely acceptable reasons why I should: to stay in touch with friends and family in Europe and as a popular way to promote my work, namely – my novels.

Friends. Well, I love my friends and I am one of those people who keeps friends ‘for life’ as I am not really quick in making new friendships; it might have proved unfortunate for me but my standards have always been too high and often – unreasonable. Those old friendships from my hometown, some from London, some from Sydney have lasted longer than 30 years, at least. Yes, I am proud of such an achievement knowing it can’t be measured by a common and most popular way – money, the way people today measure almost everything, including friendship.

facebookDon’t take this as pure vanity, but it serves the story: I was quite a pretty girl, and even prior to my puberty boys openly would tell me what they thought about my ‘assets’.
Those, for me rather annoying compliments and comments, set off the search for more ‘sophisticated and sensitive’ people, hence during my life my male friends were often gay men: sophisticated, cultured, often well read, well dressed, well informed and loyal, above all: they were uninterested in my ‘assets’.
I have always trusted them, they never let me down, they never expected from me anything more than friendship; never gave more than plain, sincere friendship in return.

Back to Facebook!
Look, I am fifty now. Do you think that I like the ‘compliment’‘You are hot!’
It is vulgar in my books. Without even blinking, I ‘defriend’ those ‘friends’. Predators. Facebook – a fertile soil for all sorts of characters.
I like to call my real friend or to send a message and arrange an outing: coffee in a local coffee shop or downtown, somewhere around Hyde Park on a sunny day. If they wear sunglasses I’d say ‘Take them off, please’ as I like to look at my friends in their eyes (unlike cyber-friendship). In that way I know all the range of their emotions, and there is some sort of deep connection between us while looking in each other’s eyes. I like to gently touch my friends while I talk, a soft stroke with a hand or fingers sliding down the hand; hugs are always on my menu when I invite friends over for a lunch.
Is it normal nowadays? I don’t know and I don’t care, it is me.
I am prone to bluish moods sometimes. The perfect remedy is my (real life) gay friend who magically knows how to ‘get me out of the rut’.

Let’s go back to Facebook. How many of you have struck a real friendship on Facebook? Next to none? Press ‘like’! I like your ‘smartness’ (googled quotes). Your post is ‘hilarious’. I’ll click on your ‘virtuous cause for a better world’, or more rights to the silliness, never mind, whatever…

When it comes to reading, I read classics. I know, once when you’ve read them all what do you do then? Well, I read them again. And again, and again…
I’ve never said that good contemporary writers were not in existence any more. There are some that are just terrific. They are not self-published, they are often non-mainstream and we know who’s who.

unityBack to Facebook.
Friends, friends, friends, over thousands of friends. People ask for friendship we accept ‘what the heck’… let’s add another person and like his/her page if required. Ten, twenty, hundred requests: ‘like my page’, a ‘friend request’, ‘play-this-game-request’… HUH!

I was in search of a good read. Dry land recently. What is Gabo doing? I can’t read A Hundred Years of Solitude again. Love in the Time of Cholera, neither. Looking through my bookshelf, looking online, well, looking through Facebook profiles. There are a number of colleague writers. I’ll check tomorrow.

Do I feel like reading a love story? I haven’t read a love story for quite a long time. The page pops up: Jubilate.
Oh, Michael Arditti. Of course I’ve heard of him. Shall I – shall I not? Reading the synopsis, a few reviews from respectable sources (we don’t really rely on Amazon and Goodreads reviewers as lots of people with not so pure and sincere intentions write their ‘reviews’, hence there are better sources to be looked at).
OK, buying it! No, I can’t wait till Amazon sends it. I am going downtown, I have my date with yet another uber-chic gay friend and I’ll look for the book. I take Simon with me to the bookstore. He knows Arditti. I mean, he has read his books and said ‘highly recommended’, well, Simon, I have already made up my mind.
Finished Jubilate, it is – a masterpiece.
Shall I inbox him?
No, as my daughter would say ‘uncool’ or ‘so lame’.
Shall I inbox him and tell him what I think about his book?
I inbox him.
He replies. He is delighted, ‘especially as it comes from me’. He likes my comments and we continue with our comments. He gains my trust; I gain his as he has asked for my e-mail address after a while. I write a review of Jubilate, feeling good about writing a review about that book; he feels good that I have written it! We continue exchanging e-mails. He reads my book. Yes, he likes it! I feel good while reading his observations and comments (I finally had a chance to read your novel, which I greatly enjoyed. I was much impressed by the way that you managed to translate your personal experiences (and what powerful experiences!) into a fascinating fiction. With your lyrical expression and use of imagery and archetypes, it at times resembled a prose poem more than a novel. But then the rich and idiosyncratic characters came to draw us back into the everyday world. I was particularly keen on Claude and the Mother (and obviously Marco) and spent far too long trying to work out who was the real-life model for Tom…) I read The Enemy of the Good and I love it. Our e-mails are getting longer and longer as we discuss our books. His mind is brilliant, humor subtle and we find similarities in our views on many topics.
After so many pages of his books I’ve read and e-mails we’ve exchanged, I think I know him well. I trust him. Trust his good judgments – on his suggestion I started to read Unity.

Hang on; the real story starts here!

While reading Unity I discover a new Michael Arditti.
Wow, this man is a historical figure. I go and brag about him and his friends to my daughter.
The synopsis of the book:
“It is the early 1970s; a trio of Cambridge undergraduates (Luke Dent, Felicity Benthall and Michael Arditti) write and act in a play based on Unity Mitford’s relationship with Hitler. To their surprise, the project is taken up by the legendary German radical film-maker Wolfram Meier and immediately the mood darkens. While filming begins in Germany, the Baader-Meinhof gang kidnap, and kill, leading industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, and the set becomes riddled with political and sexual disturbance. Lead actress Felicity Benthall is killed while apparently planting a terrorist bomb. The filming of Unity is abandoned. Felicity’s lover, the young film writer Luke Dent, buries himself in religion and eventually commits suicide.

At one level, Unity is a playful account of luvvies at work in a politically charged atmosphere. Two revered old English actors compete over their respective celebrity. Geraldine Mortimer, a child star turned militant revolutionary, orders up sex with room service while raging against world leaders in her diary. But playfulness alternates with a sense of threat. There is a chilling portrait of Wolfram Meier, the director who takes over the role of Hitler half way through filming. History repeats itself as not-quite-farce as we watch apparent charisma destroy all within its reach.”
(The Guardian 11 June 2005).

Finished the book – speechless.
Who is the real Michael Arditti?
I got to send him yet another e-mail. He has to explain it all to me: how all those turbulent experiences of his and of his best friends marked the rest of his days; what implications they had upon him? Et cetera….

He has to explain it all and above all – I got to interview him! He has to clarify the unfinished story, there were so many questions left unanswered, he owes me the rest of the story.

Hence I write my e-mail:

Dear Michael,

You’ve been on my mind for a few days as I was thinking about which book to pick up and read next.
Unity certainly was a very difficult book. Exceptional though, as your other books I’ve read earlier, but very difficult.
I was only a young girl (almost a child) when Europe was in a grip of fear from Baader-Meinhof (and Italian Brigate Rosse) but I do remember well all of those turbulent events linked to both organizations.
I remember when in 1977 “an English actress blew up herself and some diplomats”, but prior to reading your book it was all summed up in that sentence: a lunatic English actress, making a film in Germany in connections with Baader-Meinhof.
Then I found she was your friend and you knew her so well.
It is an astonishing story and your portrait of (or the one others helped you to put together) the schizophrenic Wolfram Meier is mind-boggling; you made me despise and almost loathe a person I’ve never met.
That novel of yours was a major piece of work and in, yet again, a selective collection of puzzles you’ve built a very cohesive mosaic as a plain story (for me, though!), but as a story which would give a conclusion and logical, or a much needed closure, we were all left short, of course – including you.

Luke’s Letters started off as an easy, pleasant read and I enjoyed a lot learning about characters involved in movie-making industry.
His ending in a way was expected, but still, it shocked me that he took his own life. Too much to bear (for him)?
I suspected that you had deeper feelings for him… in between lines or just my feelings told me so. It was touching to find how much respect and trust he had for you, almost the same amount as my friend Marco had for me: always asking for my opinion wanting to be rightly evaluated and accepted. He loved Felicity as we often love a person who is not ready to fully reciprocate our feelings.

There are other ‘beasts’ which I detested while reading.
Liesel Martins and Manfred Stukl sound as hard snobs, difficult to interview. I see them as some sort of sadists pushing their own views while underestimating others’.

Thomas Bucher??? He went through hell but preferred to remain there, obviously.

Characters are dramatic, theatrical and on heavy drugs and alcohol, as one would expect it in such an industry, but be it not a cliché, they are not really humanely kind altogether. I liked Luke the best and he appeared to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.
Don’t you think that those events were his psychological death?

Were those events heavily pressing onto your soul/conscience prior to publishing the book?
Have those feelings ever really left you?
Once you took it all off your chest, it really did not make a lot of difference for you personally, did it?

Kind regards as ever,

Branka

Michael’s (cropped) response:

Dear Branka,

I must take it as a compliment (I hope!) but Unity is entirely fictional. The ‘Michael Arditti’ in the book is as much a character as all the others. I wanted to explore a different way of treating the story. So all the blame for the horrors must be put on me!
You’re in distinguished company re the duping. I only wish my life had been half as exciting and glamorous – though on second thoughts…

At least, I managed to get the proofs of The Breath of Night corrected at the beginning of last week. All is now set for its publication on 4th July.

Best, as ever,

Michael

A few e-mails followed, as one could imagine my state of … hmm … let’s call it – surprise.
He tricked me!
Absolutely completely tricked me!
I thought (ah, the unreliability of thoughts and convictions) that no one could pull my leg ever.
Michael Arditti tricked me!
Hang on! Did he trick me?
No! He had written a fiction. He is a novelist.

So what now?
Yes, we laughed at it while typing our comments.
I told him I’ll take revenge, hence this story.
Don’t mess with novelists!
I can understand now why some people are angry with me. I call my characters ‘predominantly fictional’ and some people demand answers to their questions.
This time it was me – imposing questions on Michael Arditti.
Which one?
Was it the novelist, the only friend I earned through Facebook or the fictional Arditti, friend of Felicity Benthall and Luke Dent?

Back to Facebook:
Please, no more friend requests!

2 Comments
  1. Jack Eason says

    Branka,
    No matter what sites like Facebook may think, using the term ‘friend’ is plainly incorrect. At best we are acquaintances. Remember the days before the internet when people from across the world who had never actually met, nor were ever likely to, communicated by letter or Aerogramme? We were ‘Pen pals’ back then. To my mind our Facebook interactions with one another are nothing more than the twenty-first century equivalent. 🙂

  2. Branka Cubrilo says

    I loved ‘the age of decency’, Jack, friends were fewer but the Universe seemed mellower, somewhat kinder to all of us – seemingly disconnected, not guided by an all-reaching Facebook.

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