An International Thriller set on Cape Clear
by Chuck Kruger
Dick Hogan, Irish Times, hails the novel as "an epic story of intrigue and greed" and "a ripping read."
Sandra MacLiammoir, Feature Writer for The Southern Star, says in an article on the book & Chuck entitled "Getting to Grips with Evil": "Set in West Cork, mainly on Cape Clear, the story barrels along with much action." Yet this philosophic exploration of evil "is all about being light."
John Greene, County Sound Broadcaster, declares: "This book has everything!" and "is lovely to read."
Clem Cairns, Guest Book Reviewer for The Southern Star, writes, "This is a ripping good yarn. . . . At times you’ll be on the edge of your seat."
Suzanne Crosbie, Book Reviewer for The Examiner, calls the novel "challenging and interesting". "This ‘literary thriller’ operates on many different levels. . . .[and] could be described as a satire -- a tongue-in-cheek look at the action novel."
Paula MacKinnon, Jungian analyst, believes the work "A great read: entertaining and educational!"
In their entirety to date, reviews of the thriller include the following. The first article, published as a feature in the Southern Star, Saturday, June 20, 1998, is by journalist Sandra Mac Liammoir, who interviews Chuck Kruger about his new novel, launched in Cork city on 30 June and in Bantry 8 July 1998. The second review is by Suzanne Crosbie and appeared in The Examiner’s Weekend on Saturday 27 June 1998. The third article, by Leo McMahon, appeared in The Southern Star on 11 July 1998. The fourth, by Dick Hogan, appeared on Page 2 of The Irish Times on 25 August 1998.
"What I was really trying to do in the book," says Chuck Kruger, "was to explore the nature of evil, and to give evil people personalities of the kind I imagine for them."
Known for his love of his adopted homeland, Cape Clear, and for his book about it, Cape Clear: Island Magic, the ex-teacher has just published his first novel. ‘The Man Who Talks To Himself’ is a thriller, he says, but more than anything it is a spoof.
Set in West Cork, mainly on Cape Clear, the story barrels along with much action. The books reads like a light, escapist adventure, and even blurbs on the jacket are fiction. What mind formed it?
One place Chuck studied was at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and the first mention in his list of acknowledgements is relevant to what the writer set out to explore. At the outset Chuck thanks his late friend, Dr. John Mattern, a Jungian Analyst who introduced him, he says, to a Kantian perspective on the nature of evil. Kant was a philosopher; what exactly is his take on evil?
"It is important to me, and I think it is implicit in the book; I articulate it somewhere. Simply it is this: when one human treats another as an object, that person has committed evil. Cannon fodder is a lovely metaphor for evil: they are no longer people; they no longer have mothers and fathers; they are just objects for cannonballs to hit. Those are soldiers; those are people; we turn them into objects and get rid of them."
That is a swift definition. Chuck says we all see this and feel it when we go into a store or a hospital and we get the feeling we are just a number.
"A bureaucracy tends to treat people not as people but as objects, as numbers to be filed away and dealt with as numbers. That kind of situation, where our humanness is depotentiated by people or organisations, I think that is the beginning of evil."
For this story, Chuck created an imaginary school and an imaginary board of management, partly because he wanted to settle old scores. His own story is that after teaching at an international school in Switzerland for more than twenty years, himself and several colleagues, all over fifty, were sacked by a new board of management, basically because the new board wanted to hire two teachers for the price of one old one. In addition to this, the whole ethos of the school changed.
In ‘The Man Who Talks To Himself’ Wink Fay is a teacher at an international school in Switzerland who accidentally stumbled upon some financial irregularities committed by the board. He gets fired, but he knows a lot. The action moves to Cape Clear and stays there for the drugdrop, the big chase and the bust.
We may think they are just characters in his book, but for his four evil people, Chuck says, he was quite Jungian to begin with, and made Mohammedh is ‘sensation’ type, and Sebastian his ‘intuitive’ type.
Ormond represents ‘feeling’, and a character called Keith is the ‘thinking’ type. Then Chuck just took off in a different direction with each of them.
"Sebastian has an empire. He has no hesitation to hope that people become drug addicts, because then they are just weak people anyway so let’s get rid of them. He treats them as objects. People die, yes, about thirteen or sixteen of them. Most die when a drug-running, arms-running boat is blown up by the navy -- they are the suborned of the bad people.
"One of the bad people is pushed off a cliff; another person who looks like the protagonist is also pushed off a cliff. Two others are murdered in a gunfight in South Harbour on Cape Clear."
The chapters begin with epigrams which herald the action, like "the abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power," taken from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar.’ Some of the epigrams are thought-provoking ("The world wants to be deceived"), whilst others are jokes.
And at least some of the mighty fall; some of the baddies die. Does this mean that Chuck Kruger believes in justice and the ultimate triumph of good over evil?
"Well, if I don’t I sure would like to, and I think that is a fairly full definition for me. I want to, I try to, I don’t always succeed inbeing able to believe that there is divine justice. I would like to believe that there is. For me, the holocaust broke my belief that there is a personal loving God for each of us.
"I haven’t been able to find him or her or it, even though I have had some wonderful experiences which to me are connected to the divine. Nonetheless I can’t find that personal -- the ‘carer’ in the universe. Not when millions and millions of people are dying tragically all the time, people starving to death in the Sudan’.
And people suffering and dying at the hands of evil? "That’s right. That’s right, and so I wanted in my book to create a devil. I have the utmost respect for John Milton and I always love the character of the devil in ‘Paradise Lost’. I found out why the devil comes off so well when I was writing this book, because my most evil character, my most devilish, was more fun for me to deal with than anyone else."
Did that worry Chuck? "No. It was more a sense of freedom in exploration than it was a frightening experience. I knew it was in the imagination, but still, Sebastian, my most evil character, is so charming, and so witty, and so erudite, so full of mischief, yet so destructive."
About the villain: "Sebastian owns forty-seven companies, most of them dealing with import/export, the flagship specialising in commodities ranging from oil to soybeans to gold coins. So intuitive was he, such a nose had he, that he boasted he ate, drank, sniffed and screwed the female goddess money. If you don’t bed down with Miss Moola, she won’t bear your brats . . . Sebastian didn’t have to go to the politicians, they came to him."
Sebastian is the clever one, quoting philosophers all the time. He knows them all, of course, as Chuck does, and comes up with a few surprises. But what would his creator like the reader to come away with after reading this book?
"I would like the reader firstly not to come away with what happens, say, after a Patricia Cornwall novel, where I think one has a dismay at the perversities; where there is a corpse on every other page, a corpse that has been treated perversely. I have tried to create something which is more literary; perhaps no more believable, but I hope so.
"I hope I have a verisimilitude and some convincing characters, but as individuals, and not simply (as) types. I would hope that people would have had many laughs, maybe a cry, maybe a shriek now and then, ‘don’t do it!’, or a delight that -- hey, those are real people and they are in love without sex having anything to do with it."
Yes, it is a noticeable feature of this novel that there is no sex in it, well, none to speak of.
"That is right. I had the novel highly criticised by a publisher who saw a draft. The comment was ‘there is no sex until page 141’. So I did toss (some) in. There is a chapter that takes place in Israel, at least there is a letter from Israel, and sex is introduced much earlier, but at the moment of ejaculation a bomb goes off.
"I was in Tel Aviv once and a couple of suicide bombers went to work just a couple of hours after I arrived. I visited the site with Israeli friends, and did some real exploration of kind of the ‘geist’ of Israel. I tried to put that in the story."
After three years of work on the thriller, and a great deal of belief in it, Chuck found himself unable to find a publisher. He ended up printing three thousand copies himself, and these have duly been delivered to him home on the southernmost tip of Cape Clear island.
"I’d had some bad experiences with publishers. I wrote to twenty American publishing houses, and I got the same letter back from all of them. It went: ‘Dear author, we regret to inform you that we do not accept manuscripts from authors, only from agents’. That was from twenty, the same letter.
"I then wrote to twenty agents, and I got the same letter back from all of them: "Dear author, we regret to inform you that we are full up’. So I said, ok, there is only one way to go from here. I will do it on a small scale, and that is the way I’m living my life anyway."
Nell and himself are organic gardeners, and Nell makes papier mache animals which she sells in a little craft shop on the island. They have a second house on their headland property which they let out to holiday makers in the summer. Someone in Bord Fáilte recently observed that their house rents well, and asked why they don’t build some more.
"I said that would be counter-productive; what people like about our house is that it is the only one; it is not part of an empire. That is the way we are trying to live. Publishing this book myself is in keeping with that."
For a man who appears to take life seriously, this book is all about being light, being entertaining, being witty and funny.
Yes, he is a serious person, he says, but the more he got into this book, the more of a spoof it become. He does like a good belly laugh, he says, and perhaps he doesn’t get enough of them. So this is Chuck lightening right up.
"But one of my major concerns for the book is that in living in a small community, one tends to view one’s neighbours at rather close quarters, and one forgets that one is looking at a magnifying glass. I have tried so carefully to not in any way hurt this island. It is all just my imagination.
"As far as characters go, the people on Cape, the apparent locals, are not the real people. One is my mother -- I give her an Irish accent. One is Nell’s grandfather -- he had arthritis and rickety knees. Yet another ‘local’ is my own grandfather -- he liked to sing."
Chuck says he has taken liberties with everything, including the born-again Christian ethos, pointing out that he has priests who are friends, Protestant ministers who are friends, and also born-again Christians who are friends.
"But the trouble, I find, with fundamentalists from all over the world, is that, in my humble opinion, they tend to misinterpret metaphors for fact. I do let one of those people have it in my book, but I do not mean anything against the religion for which that person stands."
It started as an act of revenge, but it ended as an act of love. The writer fell in love with all the fictional characters, he says, particularly the evil ones, and found out something about evil that he hadn’t known before.
"It was a personal recognition, almost an epiphany for me. I’d come across that Kantian idea, but in doing this, I recognised also that if you treat yourself like an object you commit evil. It has changed the way I think."
According to the blurbs Chuck has put on the back, ‘The Man Who Talks To Himself’ is a literary thriller that is worth re-reading. That is believable. At £10, the first paperback edition is on sale on bookshops and newsagents all over West Cork now.
The book blurbs Sandra Mac Liammoir refers to run as follows:
Winner of the 1998 Hubris Prize for Literature, The Man Who Talks To Himself, "a bright sophisticated international thriller . . . has exotic settings ranging from the Zürichsee to Oileán Cléire, extremely rich men determined to get even richer by foul means or fouler, luxury beyond the dreams of average (including the teachers, who are more than the rude mechanicals of this late summer romp), nicely described locations and a lovely style, replete with lots of neat wit. . . . The characters are well-drawn and the islanders ring the bells not of alarm but of authenticity."
"This hard gem of a book examines and dramatises the very nature of modernevil, capitalism run amuck. Its most likeable (also its most despicable) contemporary antagonist emerges archetypally." Bobby Redfern
"Intimately set on Cape Clear Island for the second half, this extraordinary novel enables you to hear and see love greed lust and deception first-hand. Not just a page-turner but the best one-night stand -- or spoof thereof -- I’ve had in donkey’s years! Imagine, a thriller worth rereading!" Orla ("Deirdre") O’Driscoll, The Encomium
"A literary thriller at last -- what up to now has been a contradiction in terms!" Seamus Harvey
"A great read: entertaining and educational!" Paula MacKinnon, Jungian analyst
"Such storytelling nourishes the brain, beguiles the senses, tickles the funny bone, holds the breath!" Old Statesman
"Witty, probing, fun. A thriller with heart."
If you’d like an autographed copy of The Man Who Talks To Himself sent to you or to a friend, simply enclose a cheque, with name and address of recipient attached, for £10 (from within the EU), $19 (from USA) or 25 Swiss francs and mail to: Chuck Kruger, Cape Clear Island, County Cork, Ireland. (Above price includes handling & shipping.)
This second review, by Suzanne Crosbie, ran in The Examiner’s Weekend on Saturday 27 June 1998:
Cape Clear Island -- Irish Speaking -- North Harbour, with yellow gorse and purple heather reaching down to the depths of a clear blue lagoon --students chattering and learning more than language -- the Ferryboat --the Naomh Ciaran, disgorging backpackers and the occasional car.
Chuck Kruger introduces us to a motley crew of characters -- Wink Fay, ex-teacher from Switzerland, Mohammed Habib, shipping magnate and drugbaron -- and a murdered bird-watcher.
Wink is a man who talks to himself -- indeed his inner thoughts are a sub-text which makes him a much more developed character than the others. Sacked from his teaching job in Switzerland he hopes to do a little twitching (bird-watching) and sleuthing at the same time.
This book could be described as a satire -- a tongue-in-cheek look at the action novel.
This ‘literary thriller’ operates on many different levels -- the author’s knowledge of philosophy and his keen eye for the life of Cape Clear tempered with a slightly caustic view of his teaching profession colleagues make it challenging and interesting.
The third article, by Leo McMahon, appeared in the Southern Star on 11 July 1998
"This book has everything" declared County Sound broadcaster John Greene at the reception in the Kiln Hospitality Suite of Murphy’s Brewery, Cork, recently when officially launching ‘The Man Who Talks To Himself’ by Chuck Kruger of Cape Clear island.
Many friends and acquaintances of the noted storyteller and writer were in attendance as the 103FM presenter spoke of a book which he said featured wealthy, greedy and evil people engaged in gun running, drug dealing and even open warfare on Cape Clear!
Quite apart from being a "lovely to read" thriller written in a beautiful and eloquent style, there was also a most effective though unintentional attempt by the author to highlight Cape Clear and its many landmarks.
Returning thanks, Chuck Kruger specially mentioned two of the early reviewers of the book, Sandra MacLiammoir of ‘The Southern Star’ and Suzanne Crosbie of the ‘Weekend Examiner’.
He also thanked Max Harvey of Colour Books Ireland, the printers; Murphy’s Brewery (also sponsors of the Cape Clear Storytelling Festival) represented by Lyndon O’Hea and Gerry O’Donovan; his wife Nell, son Nathaniel, and musical entertainers at the launch, Jim Bainbridge, Patrick Forester and Davey Craig.
Chuck Kruger formed his own company, Southernmost House Press, to publish the 196-page thriller and design was by Carrigboy Typesetting Services, Durrus.
In brief, the plot is as follows: Wink Fay, teacher at an international school in Switzerland, stumbles upon financial trickery by his board but shortly finds himself fired. One of the world’s wealthiest people lies behind Fay’s ousting.
When eight of the remaining staff and four members of the board journey to Cape Clear, Fay, disguised, has preceded them to their retreat rendezvous. He ferrets out evidence not only of murder but also of a major drug drop in the offing. The sea erupts and this retreat turns into a murderous fiasco with surprises galore.
Amongst those at the launch in Cork were solicitors Anne and Siobhan Daly, Michael Manning of Cork Kerry Tourism, Eric Hickey, Bandon, Cape Clear islanders Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil, Patsy and Mary O’Driscoll, and Fr. Patrick Hickey, C.C., Glanmire.
New York state-born Chuck Kruger is also author of ‘Cape Clear Island Magic’, a photographic, historical and dramatic account of the West Cork Gaeltacht isle and published by Collins Press.
# ‘The Man Who Talks To Himself’ by Chuck Kruger is priced £10 paperback, and is now on sale in bookshops.
The fourth article, by Dick Hogan, appeared on Page 2 of The Irish Times on 25 August 1998.
CHUCK KRUGER is the winner of the 1998 Hubris Prize for Literature. The award ceremony hasn’t taken place yet -- the prize, so far, is not on the mantel. It never will be.
Search The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook but you won’t find a mention of this accolade nestling among the Bookers’ or the Whitbreads’ because it doesn’t exist. It is spawned by a keen imagination. But on the blurb of his first work of fiction, it reads well. The Man who Talks to Himself is also a good read, linking Cape Clear Island, off the south-west coast, and Switzerland, in an epic story of intrigue and greed.
The author’s daughter, Meredith, Kruger reveals, made the award. It was all done in a light-hearted spirit; the term Hubris Prize was coined by a friend. Award or no award, the self-published novel is a ripping read. On the back cover there’s a picture of the author at the helm of a yacht in a red sweater. There are glowing tributes to his work under the Hubris Prize reference. As an attention-getting ploy it is as good as any.
Chuck Kruger’s story is good. He knows something about stories. Why wouldn’t he when he has been running a story-telling festival on Cape Clear for five years?
Switzerland to Cape Clear is quite a jump. The Swiss are better known for watches and clocks and banks -- we were supposed to be the ones who knew about story-telling. But when he was teaching secondary school back in Zurich, Chuck Kruger got the idea of commissioning storytellers to spend a week in residence in his classroom. The students were enchanted.
In 1986 with his wife, Nell, whose other incarnation was as a professor of linguistics in Switzerland, he bought 63 acres on Cape Clear. The couple had visited the beautiful island before and it drew them in. "I have two loves in my life -- the first is Nell, the second is Cape Clear," he says. The third is obviously story-telling.
The rich tradition of story-telling in the south-west -- especially on islands like Cape Clear and the Blaskets -- where sadly no inhabitants remain -- is no longer as vibrant as it was.
When Chuck Kruger arrived on Cape Clear, he found story-telling had all but died. Television had seen to that. The old "rambling houses" were no more, although once they had been such a feature of rural life, when people had more time on their hands and knew how to amuse themselves.
Of an evening, the better story-tellers would ramble from house to house telling tall tales, often macabre ones, made even more so by the gloom of descending night in an age before electric light reached remote places. They were stars. A good audience was guaranteed.
Chuck Kruger says: "Our problem is to find enough beds for 300 people. We’re not advertising it because we just can’t cope with the demand. We used to feel each year that we had to have a formal launch of the festival. Not anymore."
As well as the September story-telling festival, the Kruger camp organises an Easter retreat on the island for international story-tellers and a workshop during the October bank holiday weekend when tales are swapped and honed. It is an exciting time for those who believe in the ancient art form.
For Cape Clear, it elongates the tourist season. The publicans on the island and others involved in the tourist industry say when the story-tellers arrive they bring with them enough business to match the high season. For a small island about to shut down for the winter, this is a major boost.
You might assume the story-telling festival would take place in a pub atmosphere. You know the scene: the pint, the banter, the call for hush and the story. But not at all. Chuck Kruger’s philosophy is that story-telling should not take place in a pub. Instead, he has found that in a drink-free atmosphere the stories get more attention and the audience is riveted.
"When you can hear a pin drop, you know you have them," he says, adding: "Then, we all repair to somewhere else."
As well as the Hubris Prize for Literature, Kruger has received (really), the Cork Literary Review short-story award for 1998. In 1994, he published Cape Clear: Island Magic, a loving look at the island and what it means to him.
Now that it’s up and running, who’ll win the Hubris next year?
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