Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse.
Over the course of twenty-four hours, Black Bread White Beer portrays the inner lives of a thirty-something upwardly-mobile couple as they deal with the loss of their unborn child and the festering social challenges they face – mixed-race marriages, parental pressures, organised religion. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate.
A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
Black Bread White Beer takes place over a relatively short period of time. Do you think your film making background has influenced the way you have framed this narrative?
No. It may have done previously, but not with this. I was very much aware of form as I started the book, namely that I wanted to write a short, compressed novel. Also, I was sure that the best way to tell the story of a couple’s relationship - the acute rawness of their experience - was over the over the course of day, so it was a pleasing alignment of both factors.
Have you got a favourite literary depiction of marriage or marriage breakdown?
There are many, but James Salter’s ‘Light Years’ stands out, as does John Updike’s ‘Maples Stories’. Both trace how the fabric of marriage frays over time – and the depth of feeling that remains, even when a couple hate each other.
This book is only available as an eBook in the UK. Are you optimistic about the future of reading and of the book, in whatever form that may take?
Very much so. No matter what the format, the digital model has reinvigorated reading, and that can only be a good thing.
You have supplemented the book with visual images in a separate Tumblr blog. Do you enjoy the creative crossover that the digital format allows?
I started the Tumblr as a visual space for the book, not realising that it would become an outlet for all the other voices and narrative strands that didn’t make it into the book. I think if taken together, it gives a wider picture of the couple, showing when they were happy and otherwise.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading TC Boyle’s latest novel San Miguel, which shows a master at work. Really wonderful. I’m also dipping into the latest short story collection from the Paris Review Object Lessons, which features great stories from James Salter, Leonard Michaels, Ethan Canin, and Denis Johnson.
Black Bread White Beer has been longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian literature. It is available as an eBook from Amazon.