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A Neo-Spartan hard-boiled love tragedy

Again and Again and Again

Joost Vandecasteele

Alex is a hero in the police force; Penny is an ex-whore and the leader of a group of militant prostitutes who have violently freed themselves from their pimps and anyone else who encroaches on their space. Once they were lovers, now they are perfect enemies in the smallest battlefield ever: a hotel room, far away from the urban war they themselves started. That is, until she disappears and he is left behind, alone, with an all-consuming obsession.

Quality entertainment with characters that leave a lasting impression
De Standaard
Intriguing, individual and exciting at the same time
De Volkskrant

During his search for her, he becomes a shadow of the man he was. He comes into contact with the darkest corners of the metropolis of Neo-Sparta, a city of mythical proportions. He is confronted with extremely maltreated and neglected former prostitutes, a subculture of misfits who call themselves the New Useless, and meets a teenaged girl who hasn’t slept in years and because of that has developed the gift of second sight. The policeman takes decisions that cost him his job, his status and his mental health and that lead to an epic battle between two demi-gods in the suburbs of the mother of all metropolises.

In this hyperrealist, ultra-violent and raging novel, a modern myth is created to compete with those from classical antiquity.

A born story-teller who can sublimely transform his observations into gripping scenes and has great powers of imagination
Boekenkrant
An interview with Joost Vandecasteele

Q: Your debut novel 'Again and Again and Again' was described in one review as ‘a remake of a remake’, could you explain the connections to Von Kleist and Mark Johnson as mentioned in the epigraph?

A: At its core the novel is a re-imagining of the classical myth Penthesilea, the Amazonian queen versus Achilles, the Greek hero, during the battle of Troy. In the original story, made into a play by Heinrich Von Kleist, Achilles doesn’t know that he’s fighting a woman. It’s only when he defeats her and takes off her helmet that he realizes who she is. He is so overwhelmed by her beauty and his destruction of this beauty that he starts to question his own existence. Mark Johnson, an American scriptwriter and journalist whom I befriended during his stay in Brussels, and I were always intrigued by this story, this idea of two demigods who need each other to define themselves. In another scenario they would be perfect lovers, but now they are perfect enemies. His idea was always to write a script about this idea, this novel is my version. Set in a place called Neo-Sparta, based on the ancient city of Sparta where violence was common and war was an industry, I placed two present day demigods, an ex-hooker turned rebel queen versus a hero cop. A new kind of legend set in an almost futuristic landscape.

 Q: I also felt there were many comic strip references in the novel. Penny reminded me somewhat of Tank Girl and Neo-Sparta had something of Sin City. In what ways are you inspired by comics?

A: Some comic books out there are just filled with the most exuberant ideas and most inventive storylines that I have ever encountered. Some are just movies on paper. And that’s what I like about them, how they use their source material, like films or detective novels or sci-fi series. These writers are not afraid to push the boundaries of their own fantasy. Because a comic is aimed at teenagers and young adults, there can never be a dull moment. But hidden in those fast-paced action filled adventures you discover a whole universe created by intelligent writers.

 Q: Another cross-genre reference I noted was to computer games. The structure in the second part of the novel made me think of a game in which the protagonist explores a dangerous city searching for a particular treasure (Penny), with violence and dead ends and great graphics. Neo-Sparta is as much as a character in the novel as the two main characters. Was this intentional?

A: I’m a child of my time, being raised in front of the television and someone who has embraced internet as a main source of information. My biggest influences are not books or authors, but screenwriters and game designers. I believe that a book must be first of all exciting and mysterious. If this is not the case, you can be as profound or honest as you can be, the book will not appeal to me. Same thing goes with games (like comic books), to be a good game you must create a world where everything can happen and when you least expect it. One of my favorite games is Silent Hill The Room, about a man being trapped in his own apartment, with demons taking over the place. Although I know it is just a game, it scares me when I play it, because everything is just right. It is not just scary, it is creepy, the worlds you visit are vast and strange. Because I play these kind of games I realize how important it is the create tension and how fun it can be to create a whole world instead of recreating the real one.

Cities have always intrigued me, also because I live in one. I set this story in a fictional city so readers around the world would identity with that city, whether they live in LA or Paris or Singapore. What I found strangely hopeful, is that it works, living with so many people together, everybody with their own agenda, lust, ambition, ideas, gods and still it works, not always, not perfectly. But it works. That’s what I wanted to prove with Neo-Sparta, that although the city is huge and dangerous, people still remain human, still seek out relationships.

Q: And the sex, violence and pace of the plotting recall an action movie…it is like a multi-genre, multi-media novel…

A: I find this a kind of strange question simply because I don’t know any other way of writing. Of course there is a lot of violence, but it takes place in a city called Neo-Sparta. There is sex, but it’s about hookers and people who are almost primitive beings in a technological landscape. And the pace is for me a normal pace. I can’t imagine writing any different and not including these sources of inspirations like games and movies. Of course this being my first real novel I wanted to be as clear as possible what my style is. I wanted to show first of all what kind of writer I am, almost claiming a piece of the literary landscape and saying ‘this is my playground and these are my toys’. I will not always write books about scary cities and maniacs, but I promise never be softer than the real world. My mission as a writer is not only to reach your brain, but also your gut.

Q: How does your writing life relate to your work as a stand up comedian? You certainly haven’t written a comedy and there’s a wonderful vignette in the novel where something horrible happens to a poor stand-up who tells an inappropriate joke.

A Stand-up has taught me the importance of rhythm. That’s why I write out loud, because it has to sound good too. I didn’t want to write a comedy, it’s what people would expect and I don’t do requests. The story of the butchered comedian is based on the large amount of hate-mail I receive, a lot of people think that I’m just foul and blasphemous and rude. They expect their comedians to be clowns who joke about the small business of life, and never the big issues. I have also experienced aggressive comedy nights, because I’m very outspoken. So the tale in the novel is kind of a nightmare for me and also a way of showing what kind of world I placed these characters in. The universe of the book is like ours, but worse. Much much much worse.

 [Michele Hutchison, 23rd September 2010]