Emancipation of B, published by Roundfire books, is the story of the mysterious B. According to the book’s elusive description, “B is not a child of his time. As an outsider, he hides his secrets well. Freedom is all he dreams of. But when it comes at last, it is in the most unexpected way—and at a considerable cost”. Author Jennifer Kavanagh explains that the description is deliberately vague because “the book reveals itself slowly; it’s important not to give too much away to the reader”. She talks to me about what led her to write this intriguing novel, which is her first work of fiction.
What inspired you to write this book and, in particular, create “B”—who, given he’s a single, childless man in his mid-30s—is very different from yourself (at least, on a surface level)?
Writing this book was not so much a willed act but an act of letting go and allowing things to unfold. The book first came to me as an image and this image turned to out to be the ending—I had no idea what it was about. At first, “B” was a woman but that didn’t work and eventually “she” turned out to be a “he” and this particular he. I found that, as I knew theoretically, characters take over. B was on my shoulder for a long time, accompanying me through life. It became clear what he would and wouldn’t feel, think and do.
B’s “emancipation” relates to his decision to cut himself off from society. It comes across that for him, this is a logical decision (ie. not because of mental illness). Do you think that modern-day hermitage could be a rational act?
I do believe that choosing to live a hermitage lifestyle can be a rational act. In fact during a nomadic phase some 15 years ago, I advertised for a “hermitage” and, for quite a few years, sought out hermit huts to stay in for a few days. My life in the early days of my faith [Jennifer is a Quaker] were like a pendulum between social action and withdrawal. Now, although my flat is a bit like B’s space in the book, my life is a bit more of an equilibrium.
What were the key challenges of creating an environment in which a character could realistically be completely cut off from society? (ie. so that the reader could believe that a person could go for months without seeing anyone or being seen)?
It was fascinating to work out the practicalities. How he could remain hidden and how he could get food etc. So I talked to people with experience of squatting and I also have talked, in the past, to asylum seekers (for my non-fiction book Journey Home).
In the book, B doesn't have access to any form of media (such as TV or the internet) and only really has his thoughts to occupy himself. What, for him, are the advantages and disadvantages of this complete solitude?
Advantages: not having demands made on him; being allowed to be himself—something he has struggled with in the past; greater awareness of the natural world; and being present to every moment. Disadvantages: loneliness, of course, and worry that he might go mad.
What are the advantages and disadvantages for you when you experience solitude?
For short periods, I have actively sought solitude. I don’t take any form of media with me, except a phone to use in an emergency only. The advantages have been allowing myself to enter a more contemplative space and to be more present to the natural world and what is present in my own life, moment by moment. There have not been any disadvantages since it’s been of my own choosing and short-lived. Though, yes, there is loneliness and I have to go through a boredom threshold in order to get to a different place.
If someone wanted to experience complete solitude (assuming that they didn’t want to become a hermit!), what would you recommend that they do to achieve that?
Go on a solitary retreat. I know a few places! But with a safety net in case it doesn’t work. Solitude may be possible without going away—just generally have times in silence; away from media.
Emancipation of B is available to buy from AmazonUK and other online providers, QuakerBookshop, and WatkinsBookshop