Walls still hold frames, ceilings and buildings, they still circumscribe physical spaces for us to live in, but the way most people perceive them has changed. Visible and accessible at all times, they’re shaping and reflecting their internal world, their own depleted psyche. They make them open, exposed, vulnerable, yet potentially powerful when endorsed by many. And that particular contradiction is Mr Jones’ stroke of genius. He knew that extreme exposure was the answer. He knew that rain, snow, wind, damp and dirt, even below-zero temperatures, would not deter people from getting their daily posting fix. People walk past a wall nowadays and see themselves reflected back. The Internet space continuum might be a thing of the past, but the spirit of social media lives on.
On the whole, and as predicted, humankind has adjusted to its new boundaries, the weaker ones falling permanently behind, not recovering from the loss of control of their cyber lives, of infinite horizons and possibilities, of the endless stretching of the mind, further and further away from their own vacuous lives. No one wants to talk about them. The past sixteen months have been hard enough as it is, what with unemployment rising everywhere to unheard-of levels, even uprisings and shortage of food in some places. Everyone needs good news and good stories, except me.
Unlike other human beings on this planet, my day isn’t divided by hours, minutes and seconds, but by brief fantasies during which I finally find Maud and either kiss her more passionately that I ever have or attack her savagely. Then I feel disgusted with myself for still thinking about her, for still wanting her, for being consumed by a rage that threatens to engulf me any minute.
The quality of my day is measured by how I deal with the moments in between those fantasies, by my ability to absorb the surge of adrenaline and suppress it. Most of the time I fail. The emptiness not only stays, but grows, intensifies, seeps into my muscles, joints and bones. It twists and clutches them into knots of pain. The physical manifestations vary from day to day and keep me occupied. I don’t bother with doctors and tests, though, and I don’t bother with therapy either. I’m aware that no amount of painkillers, injections and conversations will cure the pain I’m suffering because I don’t want to be cured. That would mean accepting that Maud is no longer mine and that’s impossible. There are few people in this world you shouldn’t recover from losing and she’s one of them.
A mother doesn’t abandon her fifteen-year-old son overnight, without a warning or an explanation, using the death of the Internet as a convenient black hole. A wife doesn’t leave her adoring husband of seventeen years, after trusting him with some of her secrets. A woman doesn’t betray her lover by choosing another life and another man for the second time. Unless she’s Maud Robson, world-renowned architect – ruthless, elusive and gone.
Weaving in three first-person narrations, Heading for the Wall is a study of loss mirrored and intensified by that of the Internet. Two years on, Maud isn’t back and neither is the Internet. Each character is wrestling with conflicting emotions. The lover, wants revenge, the husband wants to protect his son who wants his mother back. Whether they like it or not, Maud binds them. She’s gone yet, in some ways, it’s as if she’s never left. So when he finds what he thinks is irrefutable proof that she is back, he starts looking for her. The search for Maud unravels the past and her many secrets and reopens old wounds.
I started writing Heading for the Wall, my first novel in English, and sixth in total, after getting enthusiastic responses to a short story, which contained the central premise of a person taking advantage of the impossible – the Internet dying – to disappear as many people did in the past during wars and conflicts. Rather than focusing on the aftermath of a global disaster, I chose to imagine what it would be like to cope with the loss of social media and mobile phones, with the loss of the sense of self they inevitably give. I’ve imagined a world that isn’t dissimilar from the one pre-Internet, yet entirely different in many other ways.
– Heading for the Wall is registered with the UK Copyright Service: no 284687558
– General fiction/literary fiction/women’s fiction
– 85,515 words/46 chapters
– Possible comparable title: The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier