An interview of Louis Bayard, author of The Black Tower
Louis Bayard is the author of Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable Book, and the national best-seller The Pale Blue Eye. Now his third novel, The Black Tower, also a historical thriller, has just been released to great critical acclaim.
Louis was kind enough to stop by toanswer a few questions.
– Vidocq, the ex-convict turned detective, is a legendary figure in his native France, but he is, or was far less famous in the United States. Thank you for introducing him to an American readership! How did you “discover” Vidocq, and what drew you to him?
It was Edgar Allan Poe who opened my eyes. In the course of researching The Pale Blue Eye,I came across a reference to Vidocq in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” I then learned he’d written these bestselling memoirs and had been a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. The more I learned about him, the more intrigued I was.
– I found your recreation of the gritty side of early 19th century Paris quite convincing. How did you achieve this?
Well, I did spend sometime walking around Paris, getting a feel for where everything was. But,of course, “the old Paris” is gone in many places, so I turned to the literature of the period: Hugo, Balzac, a number of primary historical sources.
– Why did you choose a first-person narrative, and more particularly Hector Carpentier, the medical student, as the narrator?
I tend to write in first-person because it has a nice intimacy. I also love the challenge of creating a new voice. Viidocq, I suppose, could have narrated the story, but I figured the best way to really see him was through someone else’s eyes – in the same way that Poe is “seen” by Landor in The Pale Blue Eye.
– Your narrator, Hector,is naïve and endearing. Did you create this character as the antithesis to Vidocq?
Very much so. They’re meant to challenge each other and comment on each other – even as they grow closer and closer together.
– This is your first novel to be set in France. What challenges, if any, did it pose?
Language was the big one. I regret to say that my French ended with high school, so I had to struggle to translate certain documents. Fortunately, a lot of what I needed – including Vidocq’s memoirs – has already been translated into English.
– The young man who might- or might not – be Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette,suffers from a cognitive and emotional disorder. Is this a specific medical condition, and how did you go about researching it?
I didn’t do a lot of research. In fact, I even made up a medical authority for Hector tocite! It was really just me imagining what kind of psychological damage Louis XVII would have experienced in the Tower and then projecting that into the future.
– What authors have influenced your own work?
It’s harder to say which authors DIDN’T influence me. Dickens was probably the primary influence—Mr. Timothy was really conceived as an homage to him.
– What can you tell us about your next project, or projects?
I’m planning to write about the School of Night,a cadre of Elizabethan intellectuals that included Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe and that reportedly dabbled in dark arts. We don’t actually know if there was a formal school, but for a fiction writer, that historical gap is heaven-sent because you can make things pretty much how you want them to be.
– Congratulations, Louis, and best wishes for this new novel!