I like to think of the Trilogy of Remembrance as three novels which explore related themes. This is where I like to play with and explore what I call the big questions. I don’t pretend to have any answers, just lots of questions. And I pose them to my characters.
Take Alexander Wainwright for example. He’s the protagonist throughout the trilogy—Britain’s finest landscape artist. In the world of art, my kind of questions get free reign. The fundamental issue in The Drawing Lesson is—What kind of universe do we live in?
Sit down with Alex, and he will tell you that we live in a marvellous universe with mysterious secrets to discover. He is convinced of the force of synchronicity because he has experienced it in his own life. He cannot believe that the world is chaotic, meaningless jumble. We just haven’t penetrated its secrets yet.
In The Drawing Lesson, Alex meets a very odd man, Thomas Murchison, in the bar on the Orient Express. He believes the universe is meaningless, random and impenetrable. He claims to be a scientist working on the human genome project. He tells Alex about a professional acquaintance who devoted himself to the search for the Holy Grail of physics, the unified field theory. His acquaintance never unravelled any great secrets and, according to Murchison “the price was very high.”
Alex’s response? “Surely the world only appears random because we haven’t yet perceived the order—not that there is no order.”
But listen to Alex’s nemesis, Rinaldo, a conceptual artist arguing with him.
Rinaldo puffed out his chest and went on.
“Face it, Alex. We’re tossed about in a random cosmos that doesn’t give a damn about us.” He grabbed his rival by the sleeve. “A mindless game of chance with no point at all.” Annoyed that Alex still wore the same stupid, dreamy look, Rinaldo grinned up at him maliciously. “After all, you, who paint in the eighteenth century, have won the Turner prize in the twenty- first century. And I, who bring rational concepts to challenge outmoded thought, have lost. That alone proves the universe is absurd.”
As a theme, synchronicity runs throughout the story. For at least half of the novel, Alex thinks that a guiding hand is leading him on, protecting him. Searching for a new source of light and inspiration, he takes the train to Venice where he meets Daphne, his new muse. In search of his friend, Peter, he miraculously makes the acquaintance of his parents on the train. Alexander sees a plan. By the way, what is Daphne’s take on synchronicity? It depends on if you are pleased with the result. If not, then it’s just bad luck!
But when we find Alexander at an Inn, north of Toronto, his past is about to catch up with him in a disastrous and destructive way. He will become convinced that his universe is mad, random and chaotic. What does he do? He runs, straight to New York City into the trap Rinaldo has made for him. By the time you have read the story, I hope you will be asking, “What kind of universe do we live in?” I’d love to hear your answer. Please leave me a comment.