La JohnJoseph, the novelist behind Everything Must Go talks about his scandalous Pynchon-esque debut
Last week, we gave you an exclusive extract of La JohnJoseph’s upcoming novel, Everything Must Go. The author’s first book, published this week, is a queer Pynchon-esque adventure that sees its intersex, pregnant protagonist on a quest to end the world, dogged by the homicidal bush that threatened her violent family home. So naturally, we asked the multitalented genderfucking author about orgies in churches and babysitting on codeine.
Dazed Digital: You’ve done a lot of different artistic and performance projects. How did you end up writing a novel?
La JohnJoseph: Everything Must Go was inspired by a lot of horrible little pieces of news that were happening around me, which basically just sent me around the twist. I wrote it flat out over the course of a month and a half. I didn't sleep and I had this wonderful combination of codeine and whisky going on at the time. I was always slightly out of it, watching Charlie Chaplin movies and babysitting.
DD: Everything Must Go has a fluid attitude to time and location, neither of which function in the way we’re used to. Why did you end up writing it like that?
La JohnJoseph: The narrative was basically a skeleton to hang images on, so sometimes I just wanted to have images set in certain climates, or for them to have the local cultural associations. In this sense, it's kind of an internet novel. We just don't live in a world now that's defined as it was even fifteen years ago. You can have friends, connections, even relationships with people that you've never met, who live on the other side of the world.
DD: Your style is quite different from a lot of writing that gets classified as internet writing. How does the internet affect your work?
La JohnJoseph: It's not a novel about the internet, but it's of the internet era. Reading the book is like having several different tabs open on the browser. Everything's always happening at once, across narratives, across time and place. This is the cacophonous experience of constantly being bombarded with images and narratives and sensational stories. I was really trying to satirize that.
DD: One of the things that made the novel so enjoyable is its breadth of pop and historical references – one of your characters is a mute Charlie Chaplin whose placard-communications sound like RuPaul, for example.
La JohnJoseph: I'm fascinated by classic movies and European history. I've never censored myself in what has influenced me. The last stage show I wrote, The Boy In A Dress, had everything from Judy Garland to Jean Genet in it. It was this mad hybrid, and that's why it worked. It was genuine expression, which you can't fake.
DD: Catholic imagery is a recurring theme. What personal resonances does it have for you?
La JohnJoseph: I was brought up very Catholic, in Liverpool. I have seven siblings and we went to church every week. My high school was founded by an order of Irish priests called the Christian Brothers. I’ve found it a great source of comfort, and also of inspiration, and the best way to connect with people in different countries. Five years ago, when I lived in Bushwick in New York, it was Dominican and Puerto Rican Catholics living there, and when I lived in San Francisco I lived in the Mission. It's also a very flashy, aesthetic religion – I love how esoteric it is.
DD: How do you reconcile the sincerity of your belief with the irreverence in the book (one scene features an LSD-fuelled orgy in a church)?
La JohnJoseph: There's something undoubtedly corporeal and visceral about Catholicism – it’s saturated with images of bodily torture and transcendence. There's an undeniable erotic quality to Catholic art and iconography, so it was no real leap.
DD: Even though it’s hilariously scandalous, it’s not necessarily a book that’s easy to read. Has this presented any problems?
La JohnJoseph: All the books I really love are really challenging. Even Orlando, which is the most obvious reference, is not easy. When I was trying to get the book published, I just didn't feel like it was ever going to be the kind of book that would be hugely accessible. It was a long and torturous journey to getting it published. I guess some people thought it was too mad of a book to take a chance on. Publishers often said that the book had to be published, but they themselves couldn't publish it.