Our favourite thing about October is Halloween. It's the best month to curl up with something a little spooky and mysterious. We knew we found the perfect book for the month when we read The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson. Craig answered the burning questions we had after closing the covers on this haunting read.
It's incredible how realistically you were able to describe your protagonist, Jake Breaker's work as a neurosurgeon. How did you research and gain insights into the field?
So this book was part of my PhD thesis. I chose to focus on memory and the brain for the academic side of the thesis, and that meant doing a lot of research into the work of neuroscientists, surgeons' memoirs, psychology, and all things having to do with memory from a practical perspective—the crunchy, nuts and bolts science and biology of how our brains deal with our pasts, our memories, and why we sometimes remember things the way we do—or fail to remember them the way other people may recall the same event. So it was really just a matter of research. Which I tend to do quite a bit of for any book, but for this book, because there was a real academic quotient I needed to fulfill, I did a lot more.
What do you think it is about ghost stories that we humans continue to find so enticing?
Well, there's probably a lot of reasons. I think we like to be scared. I think we like to draw close to the flame and feel that heat, that singe, without really risking getting burnt. And I think horror stories, ghost stories, offer that. And I guess there's something about belief in there, too: if we believe in ghosts, or at least read fictions where ghosts—real or hypothetical—play some role, then we can also believe that there is some kind of life after death. Now sometimes the lots of those ghosts seem pretty lonely or sad or one-dimensional; they just drift around a haunted spot looking for love or companionship or to scare the daylights out of the living. In any case, yes, it's sometimes hard to qualify our human fascinations with certain things; we only know that a great deal of us are fascinated, perhaps for reasons that are individual to us.
Without revealing too much (we love the plot twists and surprise ending!), what drove you to explore the maze that surrounds our brain's perceptions of memory?
I think, again, it's just an obsession of mine. I've often said that nothing crystalizes one's obsessions quite like being some kind of artist. Painters often paint the same things over and over; sculptors do the same, moviemakers, musicians, writers. Even when we think we're doing something completely new, when you finish and look back, you see you're coming at some long-held obsession from a different angle. But I think that in terms of a narrative device—to put it so crassly—memory, the trickiness of it, is wonderful. You and I could have the same experience, but years later if someone asked us what happened our recollections could be very different. The event itself is set in stone, unchanging, but our memories of it are flexible. Why are they different? Well, any number of reasons. Because we want to see ourselves differently in context after the passing of years, or because we want to save someone else associated with that event from harm or censure, or simply because brains, like the vessels they are housed within, are organic material that is in a constant state of, well ... erosion, let's say.
We know all great writers are readers. Can you share with us some of your favourite Canadian authors?
Well, the Canadian authors who were used in my thesis, and whose books I relied on for this book—and these are books I sincerely love regardless—were Cat's Eye by Atwood, Fall on Your Knees by McDonald, and The Stone Angel by Laurence. All 3 use memory in very interesting and vital ways, and all are remarkable books in their own right.
Why do you think reading and storytelling is important?
Well, that's a tough one to answer. I'm not sure it is as important to all people as it is to me. Of course, it's my career so by definition it's important to me. My wife and I want to raise our son to be a reader, if not necessarily a storyteller (if his inclinations take him that way, so be it), because we were raised in reading families. I think reading linked so strongly to imagination, to understanding our place in the world and the place of others, too, so I think it certainly has the potential to make us better citizens of the world—depending on what we're reading!