Sebastian Beaumont published his first mainstream novel, Thirteen, last year. The dark, surreal tale of a night driver for a Brighton taxi firm, it was described by Francis King as “an always stimulating and entertaining mix of comedy, pathos and the macabre”.
Beaumont has previously worked as a literary journalist, and lives in Brighton where he is in private practice as a psychotherapeutic counsellor.
“It was whilst compiling this list of my top ten psychological journeys that I realised that my own novel, Thirteen, relates to a lineage of stories that explore both literal journeys and metaphorical voyages into the terrifying darkness of the human psyche. Why we have to “travel” in order to find ourselves is one of the more mysterious and fascinating aspects of psychological maturation. I have been drawn, from my earliest days, to such texts, especially those that blur the boundaries of consensus ‘reality’ and psychological reality. What follows is my current favourite hit list of such tales.”
1. Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse
The classic literal/metaphorical journey. “HH” belongs to The League, each member of which journeys through a mythical Europe, as well as through time, in search of a heart’s desire that varies from person to person. But, really, all paths of this kind lead to the self, paths that will vanish suddenly from consciousness if faith and intention falter. In Timothy Leary’s quirky introduction to the 1972 Panther paperback he warns that, unless care is taken, the reader “picks the fruit, eats quickly, and tosses the core to the ground. But the seed, the electrical message, the code, is in the core”. Well said, Tim!
2. Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier
Alain-Fournier’s dreamy tale of Meaulnes – a youth who stumbles across a beautiful and other-worldly “domain” when lost in the pre-first world war French countryside – is a magical story of adolescent yearning. In this world, Meaulnes’ restless search for perfect beauty can only lead to tragedy, but perhaps the heroic quest has a redemptive quality of its own, however melancholy. Now in an excellent new translation.
3. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik
Palahnuik’s journey into the violent heart of masculinity is as disturbing as it is illuminating. His searing attack on consumerism was certainly timely. The hall of mirrors of identity that accompany this exhilarating journey is stunning.
4. Vurt by Jeff Noon
Reality? Virtual reality? Manchester? Cyberpunk? Actually, almost any of Noon’s work might fit this list, although Vurt – with its hallucinogenic coloured feathers – remains perhaps the most worthy of the title “cult classic”.
5. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
The “magic theatre” of the mind in Hesse’s Steppenwolf, in which Harry Haller, his protagonist, explores different aspects of himself via strange narcotic potions created for him by the dream-like drug dealer Pablo, is a hymn to altered states of consciousness and modes of self-exploration. Published in 1927, this extraordinary novel was far ahead of its time.
6. Children of Violence Quintet by Doris Lessing
Laced with autobiographical content, Lessing’s Martha Quest books – Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked and The Four Gated City – tell the story of a true quest: from a yearning for utopian communism in Africa, to middle-aged acceptance that such a dreams are no longer possible. In The Four Gated City – the final volume in the quintet – an unwinding of established consensus reality is hugely powerful and moving. A magnificent overview of one woman’s psychological journey.
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke
This is a hypnotic voyage into the terrifying darkness of both external and internal space. The interface between man and technology and the question of what it means to be human will always be the stuff of nightmare, but Clarke also sees the possibility of transformation and redemption. A compelling masterpiece.
8. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr
Funny, insightful and painfully moving by turns, Vonnegut’s story of Billy Pilgrim who has “become unstuck in time” is spectacular. From one moment to the next, Billy might be at home with his family, in a German concentration camp during the second world war, or on a distant planet being observed by aliens. Vonnegut’s eye for absurdity is spot on, and his temporal layering works as a brilliant metaphor for the layering of the human psyche.
9. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis
Bret Easton Ellis is a master of minutely detailing the squeaky clean surface of our material lives, but it is his investigation of the horror that lurks beneath those designer labels that is his lasting legacy. I was tempted to choose American Psycho, but Glamorama is both more explicit and more complex in the different realities it explores.
10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Not fiction, but Pirsig is a rollicking story teller and this reads like the best of novels. It is an engrossing tale of a journey across America by motorcycle, and into psychological and philosophical meltdown. The climax, in which Pirsig faces his own madness and the collapse of his collusion with constructed reality, is both breathless and magnificent. We can never step outside ideology, but Pirsig makes it clear that if we really face it, we can radically reduce its tyranny. My sense of the world was never the same again after reading this book.