Last night, I went along to the book launch for Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus at Waterstones Piccadilly. Michael is American but has spent the last ten years living in London. As well as writing fiction, he’s also a journalist and has previously worked in the film industry and for Apple. Epiphany Jones is essentially about pornography and sex trafficking and the role that celebrity plays in all of it. It’s published by the fantastic Orenda Books and Karen Sullivan described it as ‘harrowing, heartbraking, hilarious’. Ayo Onatade from Shots Mag (www.shotsmagcouk.blogspot.com) asked Michael a few questions.
Why write this and what was difficult about it? Working in the film industry involved going to film festivals, in particular, Cannes. There were amazing after parties but then there were the after, after parties for the select few where Michael witnessed questionable things happening that made him think. This led him to do research, initially by looking at reports but then trying to actually talk to some of the women involved – that bit didn’t go quite so well!
Where do ideas for characters come from? Jerry (the male protagonist) is loosely based on someone Michael knows but only from the perspective of addiction and how others judge that. Jerry is the personification of sex and celebrity. He has lots of psychological problems and is addicted to porn. Initially, he’s not very likeable but Michael wanted Jerry to be loved by the reader by the end so he made him funny. [This is definitely achieved!]
I asked Michael if he thinks anyone in Hollywood would be brave enough to turn his book into a film and would he want them to? Definitely yes to the latter. He thinks that Hollywood is changing and stars are beginning to speak out about it e.g. Elijah Wood (who wasn’t abused) recently said, “Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organised. There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind. There is a darkness in the underbelly — if you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”
Someone else asked if Michael thought his book would change anything? No, it’s too big a problem. But shedding light is good.
Jerry sees people; he calls them figments – they’re not real. Epiphany hears voices in her head that she thinks are from God. Jerry has the audacity to think she’s nuts. But Epiphany needs Jerry to believe her and join her on her quest for the truth. Is she unbalanced or an avenging angel?
I love reading. Always have done. And the vast majority of books I’ve read have been very good; a lot of them excellent. But it’s rare that I call a book extraordinary. It’s rare that I’m so flummoxed by a novel that I almost don’t know how to explain it. Epiphany Jones doesn’t easily sit in one particular type of genre. So how do I describe it? Michael Grothaus has not shied away from dealing with some incredibly difficult topics – pornography, sex-trafficking of children and the poison of celebrity. Instead of just skimming around the edges, Grothaus faces these head on. There are uncompromising scenes that are brutal, distressing and discomforting. There are other chapters that are deeply romantic before brutality breaks in and smashes it all to pieces. The reader goes through the whole gamut of emotions with this book.
This novel may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s swearing, violence and a lot of sex – not necessarily loving and consensual. If you can get past the first chapter then you can get through anything else that follows. But there’s also love, loyalty and humour. All I know is that I was crying by the end of it. We may be only half way through 2016 but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Epiphany Jones is my book of the year. It’s going to take a hell of a lot to surpass it. Extraordinary.