Do the vultures really feel the pain of our financial crisis?
The Illumination imagines a world where a person's despair is visible as a shaft of light. What would the City boys make of that?
See, you won't get it. Not a word of it. It's about all our common shared sadnesses, and if you're a Ken Dart sort of a guy to whom others are disposable fodder for your unspeakable business (literally, because I cannot find the words to express my contempt) it will mean nothing. Just a waste of time of valuable money-making, life-wrecking time.
They're mad, of course, those ones. All the money in the world can't buy the drugs to cure their emptiness, and this is, after all, Mental Health Week.
Yesterday Antonis Perris, a 60-year-old musician, pushed his 90-year-old mother from a rooftop in Athens, then followed her into oblivion. She had Alzheimer's. He was her sole carer. Sick himself, the money had suddenly run out. He couldn't afford food. This was in the week when Ken Dart trousered €400 million from the Greek government.
Perris probably did the only sane thing under the circumstances. Nobody's going to help. Do I bang on about Greece at the moment? Damn right. It's the laboratory where a vast and filthy experiment is being carried out. Only a fool wouldn't bang on.
But there are plenty of others who killed themselves and it wasn't the sane thing at all. I know a young man here who left the planet last autumn. Smart move, kiddo: a permanent solution to a temporary problem, they say... but I'm not so sure the problem is all that temporary.
I know a young woman in London. A pathologist. Recently, at post mortem, there's been a hanging every day. All but one of them young men. London. They think, perhaps, it will be quick. It won't. You choke, slowly, kicking your legs in the empty air. Perhaps the suffering - punishing the body which held you in this world - is somehow cleansing. Or perhaps you wish you hadn't done it, would give your life for a second chance.
Fifty per cent right: you'll give your life but there's no second chance. God's own vulture fund. How many human souls does he need before his appetite abates?
Suicide among young men is 25 per cent up in America over the last year. America. No future. Too much expectation.
Another friend said she was berating her (tall, handsome, much-loved, well-cared-for) son. She noticed his eyes were filling with tears. He began to cry. "Mum," he said, "Please. I'm only a teenage boy, trying to make my way."
"Epidemic" is what the medics say: an epidemic of suicide among young men. We don't hear much of it but each one takes down... well, it's hard to calculate how many lives one suicide can destroy. Not enough for the world's vulture fund gobshites to notice or care, but enough.
Mental Health Week. These are hard times to claim sanity as a natural human birthright. We become increasingly alienated from the reality of others, increasingly blanked out by entertainment, merchandise, vacuous good-lifery. Too many media products exist to make us feel too fat, too poor, too ugly, not getting enough sex (tabloid sex, where instead of genitalia there are paparazzi) or a big enough car or house. We convince ourselves we know celebrities. If you're young, you can't get a flat and you can't work in London unless your parents are rich. Welcome back.
So girls cut themselves and fall prey to anorexia or bulimia. Young men gas themselves or tie the jump-leads round their neck and kick the chair away. And then along comes Kevin Brockmeier and gently points something out. Not in a hectoring, panic-riven, enraged shout, like my sort do, but quietly and magically. In The Illumination he imagines a world – not an SF world or fantasy world but just our world – in which pain, sadness, despair and suffering are visible, in the paradoxical and beautiful form of light. A silver incandescence which streams like quicksilver or like beauty itself from our hurts.
The book is itself beautiful. Not about pain but about love. By the end you feel a bit shaken, slightly tearful (we are only trying to make our way). You feel sorry for how you've been: A Christmas Carol without the phoney Victorian redemption. You feel you should have noticed more. Your hands aren't quite steady.
And if it were real? Would Ken Dart and his vul-chums even notice, shaded from the glare by their big black moneyglasses? But the rest of us would be dazzled by the desert glare of pain and need which shrieked off them like death.
As for the rest of the world: how would it look? And what would it be like? Like this?
• The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, Vintage. ISBN 978-0099555780 ·