When asked, during an interview, how he had hit
upon the idea for his book The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco simply
replied, "I felt like poisoning a monk." That, for the
semiotics professor and author, was inspiration enough. If I had
the chance, I would ask the same question to author Pierre J. Mejlak.
What does he feed his imagination so that, in return, it fattens
his mind with storylines and populates it with memorable characters?
What does his trained eye see that we don't? And that most shallow,
yet nagging, of questions – why does he write?
Maybe Mejlak writes to remember. After all, the
stories in his latest collection, Dak li l-Lejl Ihallik Tghid (what
the night lets you say), are spiked with memories, regret, closures
from the past that the characters would like to change the ending
to, and stories that are only recalled in hours of dire need. Mejlak
sees a story in everyone. Underneath our costumes and routines,
we all have a story, a tragedy that ends in laughter, a joke that
ends in tears. And the author's role is to read us in degree zero,
and then fill in the blanks between our thoughts and limbs. Mejlak
finds clues – a twitch or look here, a mannerism there –
and follows them until he has the whole story.
Such clues enrich Mejlak's stories with intricate
detail. Indeed, the author relishes minutiae – small, eavesdropping
details that tell big truths. In L-Ambaxxatrici (the ambassador),
it is the ambassador's choice of perfume that first outlines, and
then colours her in, in all her layers and complexities. And in
Kolp ta' Stat (coup d'état), the protagonist recalls his
former girlfriend's mole on her shoulders, and on that dissects
a whole anatomy of loss.
Back to my original question, maybe Mejlak writes
because he wants to forget. To forget how, despite living in the
age of man, the world goes on without us. As the widow in Preludju
(prologue) listens while the conversation during her husband's funeral
moves to surface realities, she realises how dispensable everyone
is and how, despite what we think, when we die, life, in all its
triviality and importance, still goes on.
But maybe, Mejlak writes because he simply wants
to write. He wants to travel on a flying carpet of words, from Spain
in Mort Naraha, Pa (I went to see her, pa) and Malawi in Kolp ta'
Stat (coup d'état) to a war torn country in Il-Kubu ta' Rubik
(The Girl with the Rubik's Cube) and, of course, Gozo. And Mejlak
wants to find joy in writing; the joy of beautiful metaphors. And,
as in Nuria Angels Barrera, Mejlak wants to taste the joy of writing
as a secret pursuit, an act of protest, of love, of revenge.
Stanley Borg, The Times