How I Wrote It

Rabindranath Maharaj on writing about the fleeting nature of memory

The author explains how he wrote Adjacentland.
Rabindranath Maharaj is a Trinidadian-Canadian novelist, short story writer and editor. (Vicky Maharaj/Wolsak & Wynn)

Novelist and short story writer Rabindranath Maharaj — whose last novel was 2010's The Amazing Absorbing Boy — returns with Adjacentland. The dreamlike tale revolves around a former comic book writer who one day awakens in a strange institution called the Compound with no memory of his past. 

According to Maharaj, Adjacentland revolves around the concept of memory and how intangible and unreliable it can be for humans. In his own words, Maharaj tells CBC Books how the novel came to be.

Father time 

"It started, really, with an observation. I had visited my late father in Trinidad. He had Alzheimer's. I would look at him and kind of wonder how somebody could be emptied by forgetfulness and be struggling to fill these gaps with little spurts of inventiveness."

The fragility of memory

"I'm not sure if the idea for the book had been buried deep inside me for a while now. Because in Trinidad as a boy I would visit a place that we would now call an asylum, but the local name was the madhouse. My uncle was the chief psychiatrist there and I would listen to him talk about some of his patients. You know he wouldn't name names but what I took away from him was that while we all invest so much in memory, it is still such a fragile thing."

The unreliable narrator device

"I started writing the book thinking that the main character was brilliant, but clearly mad. As I wrote, I began to believe him more and more. I began to consider there was the possibility that there was a rational phase of madness; someone whose autobiographical memory has been expunged but still possesses procedural memory so they could remember events. To say that the main character is a completely unreliable narrator is an understatement."

Under pressure

"I did not feel a bit of pressure writing this book, at least initially. It was during the rewriting stage where I started to feel pressure; previous books usually took about a year or so to complete a first draft. But this book went through a series of drafts and it took about four years to complete. It went through several drafts because it was a difficult book to write and get right. I had to constantly, with each rewrite, create this kind of balance where the readers would believe the main character but also feel that he was quite crazy. So it was a very delicate project to create."

Rabindranath Maharaj's comments have been edited and condensed.

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