A Q&A with Robert Newman


The Voice talked to Robert Newman about his anti-globalization epic, The Fountain at the Center of the World (Soft Skull, 339 pp., $14.95).

You enjoyed pop-star fame as a comedian on the BBC. Why write a book about a guy in Mexico who blows up a pipeline and his brother who works in PR and needs his bone marrow? I believe a novel should mean some-thing. There are so many pissant little books about nothing. I wanted to write one that includes the totality of life, rather than all that other sneery, trivial, ironic wank.

You covered the Seattle protests that shut down the WTO trade talks. Was that your inspiration? I’d already been writing the novel for a couple of years, and couldn’t think of an ending. I had to get my characters—one from Mexico, one from Britain, and one from Costa Rica—in the same place. Seattle was this perfect thing, because perhaps never before have so many people from so many different countries converged at the same time.

You also went on a Welsh fishing trawler to research conditions for a stowaway from Mexico. Were the fishermen really tripping on acid and trading pornographic insults over the radio? No, that was based on stuff I know from someone in Scotland, where there are little pretty fishing villages on the west coast with people on heroin just because they know the fishing industry is coming to an end.