Note: Derek Turner and I have been friends for many years. I haven’t yet had time to read and review his novel, but will do do over Christmas. In the meantime, here is a review and interview by somebody else. SIG
The fact that Derek Turner’s magisterial Sea Changes is a deeply “relevant” novel ought not to fool the potential reader into thinking that it has the typical earmarks of a “timely” read. Though its multifaceted, intricately-weaved storyline perfectly embodies the “ripped from today’s headlines” cliché, Sea Changes also has the feel of a timeless work, written less for the day and more for for the ages.
Indeed, though Turner is writing about events and phenomena that many find enraging– politically-correct British ethno-masochism, mass Third World immigration and the concomitant mounting threat of white extinction in England—Sea Changes is notable for not reading as an angry or incendiary novel. Those expecting a crudely cartoonish anti-anti-racism screed a la The Turner Diaries are sure to be disappointed. Though Turner clearly means to skewer and savage the anti-“racist” (read: anti-white) cant-driven dogmas and smelly little orthodoxies that saturate our era, he does so in a most elegant and compassionate manner, with malice towards none except the unforgivably disingenuous.
The plot of Sea Changes revolves around Ibraham, an Iraqi man who attempts, for perfectly understandable and sympathetic reasons, to illegally enter Great Britain. When the plan goes spectacularly awry, resulting in a shipwreck of which Ibraham is the sole survivor, the hapless man becomes a pawn of forces he never before knew existed: namely the left-wing anti-“racism” industry of contemporary England.
The narrative branches in a four-pronged direction, which tracks the parallel stories of 1) the reluctant immigrant himself, 2) a well-meaning but naïve English villager who witnesses the wreckage and afterwards becomes known in the media for making certain unfortunately impolitic pronouncements about foreigners, 3) a staid, aging Tory columnist, and 4) a supremely odious, but undeniably spirited, left-wing muckraking journalist.
Events unfold in a manner that is both depressing in its familiarity and fascinating in its detailed chronicling of various circumstances and personality types. Sea Changes is funny and sad, profound in its insight, and subtly devastating in its scathing portrayal of our intellectually bankrupt Zeitgeist. In short, it would make a terrific Christmas present for Alt-Right readers!
I recently caught up with Derek, a frequent Alternative Right contributor and editor of the acclaimed British journal The Quarterly Review, to discuss his book:
Before we begin talking about your powerful new novel SEA CHANGES, a general question on fiction writing in general with respect to the “Alt-Rightosphere”… You and Tito Perdue have been working for a long time, and in recent years you have been joined by novelists like Alex Kurtagic, Troy Southgate, and myself — we are all writers of a paleocon or alt-right or nationalist or anti-modernist mindset of one stripe or another, yet we’re writing *fiction*, and our concerns are *aesthetic*, not just political and social. What would you say is the importance of being able to maintain a vigorous aesthetic and artistic resistance to the Zeitgeist, as opposed to a mere *polemical* resistance?
Sea Changes is my first book, so you are being much too kind in saying I’ve been working for a long time devising “a vigorous aesthetic and artistic resistance” to anything! I am a natural flâneur and dilettante, and don’t really see myself as being a committed novelist per se, nor a member of any movement. Besides, political novels have a deservedly bad name, because the author usually wants to make at least one world-historical point in every paragraph, and usually gives in to the temptation! I have my own interests and sympathies, and I think these are evident in the book – but I hope it is also calm and fair. I like to see myself as resembling Cavafy, observed by E. M. Forster “standing absolutely motionless, at a slight angle to the Universe”.
But however committed or uncommitted I may be, it’s true that fiction is often a better persuader than fact, and has a longer-lasting effect. Even the most brilliant polemical writing dates horribly quickly, becoming of interest only to specialists. For example, most Britons see 19th century England through the prism of Dickens rather than through the prisms of the Quarterly Review or Edinburgh Review – yet those journals were contemporaneously regarded as august social forces and ornaments to English letters, existing on a far higher plane than Dickens’ didactic potboilers. Now these once-great magazines moulder on the shelves of country houses with just the clock ticking for company, while Dickens is revived for every generation. Similarly, moderns who want to find out about the Muslim world are more likely to resort to Salman Rushdie than read think-tank reports. So whether you want to change the world, or just comment on a few of its odder and less satisfying aspects, fiction can be an immensely powerful ingredient of the arsenal.
What inspired or compelled you to write SEA CHANGES?
Simply, I was interested in the subject matter – modern racial neuroses – and no-one else seemed to be taking much of an interest in this curious, cloying tangle of saccharine self-delusion and sheer fear. There seemed to be a lot of unexplored conceptual hinterland – unexplored presumably because of that sheer fear! The lurking suspicion, even amongst liberals, that mass immigration has been a massive mistake also explains the great frequency and fervency with which multiculturalism is often “celebrated” – a classic example of protesting too much. It is glaringly obvious that diversity is not, and never could be, a social strength. The left prides itself on breaking taboos, and yet they are too frightened to examine this particular psychological phenomenon.
There was also a lot of scope for satire, and I secretly enjoyed picking apart all the crashing clichés and PC pretensions that some people call analysis. I was startled to realize quite how easy it is to write leftist opinion-pieces. Our society is so suffused with this stuff that it is almost like the “automatic writing” beloved of mediums in séances – and it is of roughly equal usefulness. My opinion of leftwing scribes, which was never high, has sunk even lower as a result of dipping a toe into their demi-rational demi-monde. I have a lot of sympathy for what one might call honest liberalism, but I find that is very rare; most people, of Left and Right, prefer a crude schematic where all moral good is on their side and all moral evil on the other.
From a very young age, I have felt that immigration matters greatly to society – any society. In a way I couldn’t then explain, it mattered much more than the economy, or party politics, or the Prime Minister’s hairstyle, or lots of other things people get passionate about. People were obviously different both as individuals and as groups, and they seemed to stay largely different whatever was done to make them the same. And this mania for making people the same always seems to mean equalizing downwards rather than upwards – just as in L. P. Hartley’s Facial Justice, when all those who can’t be beautiful themselves want the next best thing, which is to make the beautiful more like them.
I have never understood why this difference is seen as a problem. Surely it is a wonderful evolutionary gift, lending colour and texture to the world. As far as I’m concerned, the more peoples, cultures, languages, countries, principalities, dukedoms, margavates, provinces and fiefdoms there are in the world the better. I dislike anything – whether mass immigration, big business, the EU, or neoconservative foreign policy – which seeks to make everything bland and boring.
I used to get very frustrated wondering why others couldn’t see this, and being called racist and fascist and so forth. I expect I was bad at explaining myself, and I was probably also a bore. Even now, it seems oddly difficult getting people to accept that the English people made England, and if they were replaced by non-English people it would not be England, but just a place. Most people often don’t wish to think about this, especially politicians who are here today and gone tomorrow and whose prime motivation appears to make their careers as pleasant as possible. Non-discrimination is a cult for an age that foolishly believes because it has dumped God it is governed by Reason. Yet in their way liberals are as superstitious as Salafists. Their frantic attempts to bring about human equality – despite the fact that there has never been an egalitarian society at any time in history, or in any culture – are as bootless as the Buddhists’ search for bliss, and infinitely more harmful.
You have had, to date, a highly successful career in journalism. SEA CHANGES, however, doesn’t read like a book penned by a journalist. In fact, for all of its topicality, it has a literary quality about it that seems timeless. I daresay that even readers who don’t share your perspectives on issues can still enjoy and appreciate SEA CHANGES for the beauty of the language, the sweep of the story, and the full development of the fascinating characters depicted. Who would you say are your literary influences?
I have certainly been published in lots of journals, but it hasn’t translated into influence or even a decent income! But thank you for what you say about the book. It is a big theme, which demands a degree of expansiveness.
As for my influences, it is difficult to answer, because I have always read voraciously, everything from comics to classics, Hergé to Homer. I like all kinds of genres, although clearly some books are more influential or loveable. I also write in several different styles, and working out which bits of which sentences in which articles might derive from which author would be impossible.
I go through phases of particular authors. When I come across a new writer who interests me, or about whom I feel I should know, I will often read several of their books one after the other, alongside related biographies and histories. Then I may go onto comparable contemporaries. For instance, I remember when I discovered the 18th century English novel I read, first of all, Johnson’s Rasselas (I had been going through a Johnsonian phase, from which I have never fully emerged) then in rapid succession all of Fielding, Smollett, Richardson and Sterne – plus essays about 18th century letters by critics like Augustine Birrell and William Hazlitt. When eventually I come up for air after such deep-sea dives, I am left with only an aggregated and slightly jumbled memory of plots, characters and other such details, but a strong and lasting impression of an author’s style, language, personality and preoccupations. I probably also copy some of their stylistic tricks for a time, without even realizing it. I am an impressionist rather than a precisionist.
It is much quicker to say what kinds of books I tend to dislike – abstract philosophy, celebrity memoirs, esotericism, health tips, mysticism, pop psychology, pornography, schmaltz, self-help (which is secretly self-pity), sports, theology, tub-thumping. I don’t enjoy the stripped-down Hemingway style much either; it’s too self-consciously macho, as you might expect from a man who suffered from impotence.
But even in that short list there are exceptions – I love for instance the gentle Anglican mysticism of Sir Thomas Browne, whose sonorous meditations vibrate through the troubled England of his time, a variant of religion as soothing and beneficial as perusing a few pages of The Compleat Angler. Certain subjects also turn me off – for example, I would probably never read even a very well-written book about football, or the “Arab Spring”.
You probably want me to offer a specific list of authors from whom I may have taken something. I am reluctant to do this, because such lists are often just snapshots, revealing the mood of a day rather than a lifetime of omnivorous and sometimes undiscriminating bibliophilia – but if you insist…
Please take all or most of “the classics” as read, but I would add in roughly chronological order Langland, Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Browne (mentioned above), Walton (whose Compleat Angler I alluded to above), and Robert Burton, whose Anatomy of Melancholy is so determinedly plangent that it becomes deeply pleasurable. Moving on a hundred years or so, via Pope, Defoe and Addison/Steele, I could never tire of the company of Boswell’s Johnson, or Oliver Goldsmith, or even Gibbon. Jumping forward another century, I like stately historians like Motley and Prescott, the cynical sprightliness of Thackeray, the ponderous provincialism of Trollope, Dickens at times (Pickwick will always remain my favourite Dickens, because it is the least “Dickensian”). Into the last century, there is of course Proust and “the English Proust”, Anthony Powell – Conrad, Hardy, Golding, Faulkner, Leigh Fermor, Chatwin, Wolfe, Sebald…where to stop? Even now, having come up with such a list I regret countless wonderful writers unaccountably omitted. And I have not even started on the numerous non-English authors who have moved me.
Your writing is lovely, but SEA CHANGES is a kind of “downer,” as well as a frustrating read, in the sense that the bad guys win and the good guys lose, and there seems to be little hope of the bitter tide ever being reversed. Are you as pessimistic about the future for your country as this book would seem to suggest?
I don’t think the ending is as gloomy as you suggest. It is much less gloomy than Camp of the Saints, for example, in which all of Europe is wiped off the cultural map by people pressure. And it is no gloomier than, say, Bonfire of the Vanities. I would say in many ways Sea Changes is inconclusive – but that is because life is usually inconclusive. It is very rare for there to be total cataclysms or completely clean breaks. Indeterminacy suits the book’s oceanic ambience. The beach is a metaphor for all borders – real but permeable, a dynamic place different with each tide, but which remains somehow the same, while immigration is an agglomeration of drifters, what Jonathan Raban has called “that archetypal modern figure – the man caught between frontiers”.
I did not want to Disneyfy (is that a word?) the book by tacking on a sugary ending, with white-hatted cavalry riding improbably to the rescue just when all seems lost. The book is about subtle changes – gradual erosion, accumulating alienation, growing grief, a death of a thousand cuts, population replacement one person at a time, one family at a time, one house at a time, one street at a time, one district at a time. Mass immigration is not an invasion – it’s more of an infiltration.
But the overall theme of English extrusion is desperately sad, and I wanted the sadness and waste of it all to register with readers who may not necessarily have thought about such things before. The downfall of a proud people, the end of an old line, seeing an old house’s furniture being sold off in front of the shuttered building, should always be cause for chivalric pity, even when they are not one’s own people (and I am not English). England is one of the most ancient nations on the face of the earth – Bede used the term English as long ago as the 8th century, and many people in England have ancestral roots in the country going back even further. Every inch of England is littered with English remains, and laden with English significance. To see such a people, such a country, so abased is a truly pitiable spectacle – as pitiable as the extirpation, penning and gelding of the Red Indians, or the ethnic cleansing of today’s Tibetans by the Chinese.
One of the major characters in your novel is John Leyden, a left-wing columnist and investigative journalist who is certainly one of the more obnoxious and loathsome characters ever written… I’m curious to know if this guy is based on anyone in particular who you may have met during your career… You’re far too classy a person to “dish” or “name names,” I expect, but could you maybe just give us a *hint* concerning his true identity? Or is he a composite of despicable, self-righteous and morally bankrupt men you have known?
John Leyden was named in “honour” of John of Leiden, an especially obnoxious Dutch Anabaptist of the 16th century, whose inflammatory rhetoric, egalitarian politics and claim to a monopoly on moral virtue led to the deaths of many thousands of men and women in religious violence. My John Leyden is not quite in this noxious league, but I wanted to highlight the recklessness and unreason of some highly influential people, who do not stop to think what the consequences of their columnar incontinence may be on the streets of, say, Deptford or Brick Lane in London, areas where I used to live – which at the best of times are drenched in distrust. He is not modeled on anyone in particular, and I have exaggerated his ghastliness – although not by very much. I had imagined that as well as being repellent he was in some ways a pathetic, faintly ridiculous figure – an empty vessel, someone who believes he is a dangerous rebel when he is really a conformist who deals in clichés, who has never quite grown up, and in his thirties is still metaphorically begging the adult world to “look at me, look at me!”
A lot of “nativist” lingo or rhetoric lends itself to the perception that critics of mass Third World immigration hate and loathe the racial “outsider.” But critics can’t credibly make this claim about SEA CHANGES, since this book’s most poignant and sympathetic character is Ibraham Nassouf, an Iraqi man who escapes the (largely West-created) chaos, illegally enters the United Kingdom and becomes a cause celèbre of white multiculturalist leftists, a sort of pawn in their endgame to further their own feelings of righteous superiority to their more “benighted” countrymen. What led you to create this character, and what function do you see him serving in your story?
I detest any kind of politics which dehumanizes people, or foments hatred. Immigrants are human beings, and in many cases they are only doing what we would do if we had been unlucky enough to have been born poor in Iraq during the Saddam period. One reviewer of Sea Changes averred that Third World immigrants were motivated by “envy and greed”. To me, this seems harsh – while some immigrants may be resentful and avaricious, most simply want a better hand than the one they have been dealt by the Fates. Who can blame them? What young man of spirit born into a cramped life would not seek new horizons? It is their moral right to seek them.
However, it is also the moral right of the recipient nations to decline to admit immigrants if they wish to do so, for any reason. European countries are not infinitely absorbent, and even if they were it would still be wholly legitimate for indigenous Europeans to demur at social revolution. But they should never do this on the basis of sour hatred. When it comes to immigration, people usually take sides for perfectly understandable reasons, whether their own ethnic interests or on some point of principle. The problem is not people, but rather a perverse ideology. As Meredith wrote in “Love’s Grave”:
“No villain need be! Passions spin the plot We are betray’d by what is false within.”
If there are enemies as such, they are not immigrants, but a tiny number of indigenous operatives who use immigrants as ideological human shields. Some who might come close to “enemy of England” status might be those Labour advisers in the Blair era who apparently wanted to ramp up population replacement in order to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity” (and – purely coincidentally, of course! – reinforce Labour’s electoral coalition).
Immigration skeptics must make a positive case, using positive symbolism – global diversity, international co-operation rather than conglomeration, national and regional distinctiveness, local freedoms, local biodiversity, cultural cohesion, social trust, the common good.
What effect do you hope SEA CHANGES will have upon those who read it?
I hope it may make a few presently uncommitted people think about the truly revolutionary implications of the present process of population replacement going on in European (and European-descended) countries. I hope it may remind them that behind every politically correct platitude or abstract UN aspiration there are real people leading real lives in real places, and these people have at least as many natural rights as immigrants. Finally, I hope it may give them an insight into some of society’s most intractable problems – the gradual retreat into inner exile, the withdrawal of everyone from everyone else, the angst and alienation that pierce through public life like stigmata.