Helen Brown, ‘Neil Jordan: Interview’, in The Telegraph (14 Jan 2011).

[ Source: Available online; accessed 31 2011; sub-heading: Helen Brown interviews Irish filmaker and novelist Neil Jordan about his new novel concerning doppelgangers, Mistaken.incls. photo-port. with windswept umbrella by unnamed.]

Is this the real Neil Jordan? We are discussing Jordan’s new novel about two identical Dubliners who spend their lives being mistaken for each other, and there must surely be a chance that the man I’m talking to may be an impostor.

“People have pretended to be me,” he says. “People have even gone to book readings and pretended to be me. That has happened a couple of times. There are some people who pretend to be lots of people, pretending to be me until they find somebody more interesting to pretend to be. It was quite disturbing,” Jordan says.

Not, he is keen to point out, that Neil Jordan fans are especially weird: there are precedents. “Graham Greene had a double who used to follow him around the world pretending to be him. Greene would keep turning up in the Caribbean and places like that and be told he hadn’t paid his bills.”

Somebody who might sympathise with these unauthorised impersonators is Kevin Thunder, the narrator of Mistaken. As a boy Kevin discovers he has a double called Gerry who goes to a posher school and lives in a nicer house on the south side of the Liffey.

Kevin covets Gerry’s life and finds new confidence by assuming his double’s identity where possible. Jordan, drawing on his own boyhood on what he calls the “grungy” side of the river, captures Kevin’s bewildered resentment.

So Jordan understands the power of this impulse to adopt somebody else’s life? “I can understand how you might feel that you yourself have no specific life. Particularly nowadays with this culture of celebrity. The feeling that you cannot exist if you haven’t been photographed or if you haven’t modelled for Versace,” he says.

Jordan has to put up with a lot of this hoopla himself, being one of Ireland’s most successful film-makers as well as a much-admired novelist, and one feels that just as Saddam Hussein used to send lookalikes to take his place at potentially dangerous events, Jordan would happily recruit his impersonators to do all his media appearances for him.

In a sense Jordan once did what Kevin longs to do and transformed himself into somebody else, when he made the transition from unfulfilled novelist to film-maker at the end of the Seventies.

“The culture I grew up in, the only creative endeavour that was open to an Irish person was literature... Irish people didn’t make films.” He slavishly followed the familiar Irish literary templates and avoided dealing with topical issues: the man who would go on to make The Crying Game and Michael Collins felt that he was committing a cardinal sin by introducing a gun into one of his early stories.

“So when I began to make films I experienced this huge release, it was like somebody else was doing this thing, somebody unIrish. It was like there was this different person inside me that I had thought I would never be.”

He feels that in the eyes of a public suspicious of artistic multitaskers there are two distinct Neil Jordans. This mildly schizophrenic feeling, he explains, triggered the idea for this novel.

Writers have long found that doppelgangers speak to our sense that there are unresolved tensions between opposing sides of our nature. Mistaken is peppered with references to classic works such as Poe’s short story “William Wilson”, about a man who is frightened to death by his double, but for Jordan the idea of the doppelganger evokes emotions more subtle than fear.

“I’ve never understood this fevered kind of madness in these doubles stories that the narrator seems to enter into, and the writer ... The bundle of emotions I talk about in this novel, I know them very well, it’s more of a kind of nagging suspicion, a sense that you haven’t really lived your own life, that you haven’t lived the life that you should have.

“This is about a very real sense of loss. That’s far more satisfying to write about.”

Jordan has been asked to make a film of the book but is reluctant to do so; his relationship with Kevin and Gerry is one he feels he can best explore through prose.

“I suppose the reason one uses fiction, that fiction exists, is because you can have these different personae and these characters have an independent life through which you then filter all kinds of personal stuff. That seems to be the nature of the game ... Of course Kevin and Gerry are both absolutely a part of me.”

It seems then that there is one place you can be sure of finding the real Neil Jordan: in the pages of his novel.

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