Yes, in Innocence there are evil people, but there is also a presentation of supernatural evil. In this book, the evil is essentially the evil that people do to one another because of their flaws, and because we are basically "fallen."
And in some ways The City is a mirror image of Innocence. Innocence is apocalyptic and this story shows that it is goodness that goes on forever. Innocence was very gratifying to write—another "gift book" sent to me—but in many ways writing The City was even more gratifying. It embodies what I think the world is like and what life is like. As Jonah learns in the book, "no matter what happens, and no matter what happens in your life, it will all be alright in the long run."
I can no longer stand to read a story where a nihilistic writer is writing a nihilistic story for a nihilistic reader, just to confirm their nihilistic view. It is more fun, and more true to what life is about, to write about things that truly have meaning, like our relationships with other people.
In Innocence, where the story is built around man being imbued with Original Sin, there is a strong thread of an Abrahamic "God." But in The City, God, or divinity, is presented very differently; divinity is less Judeo-Christian, less obviously male, more present in nature and animals ...
I see where you're going with that. What I see underlying our lives is a profound "presence" that is there for us to recognize anytime we wish. But I try to write in a very non-exclusionary way, partly because I don't want to exclude anyone from being able to be swept away by the story.
But I also see the world as mysterious. Animals, and their consciousness, are mysterious. Our own consciousness and awareness are mysterious. If you manage not to think about those things and be in awe of those things then you are missing a very important part of the world. The world is a deeply-layered place, of which we understand only the tiniest part.
We live in an age where we believe that science and technology have made us aware of all that is. But if you really read and study science, which I do for pleasure, and you read quantum mechanics, and chaos theory, and molecular biology, you see that all we do is keep uncovering another layer. And beneath that layer is another layer we will discover ten years from now.
We know only the tiniest fraction about the world and the universe, and when you open your eyes and heart to that it makes life a heck of a lot more exciting and pleasant. And that is what I am trying to convey in these books—that if you open your eyes and heart and mind to the way the world really is, you slide away from any one ideology, and any certainty, and you come to a place where the world is full of mysterious promise.
The City also shows God being present in art and in music, in the highest beauty that man creates. There is a powerful scene where Jonah is struck by the meaning behind the "Goldfinch" painting. Comment on how you see great art—art with meaning—as being the presence of the Divine.
If the world is a creative place, which I think it is, then when we create, it seems we are in touch with a higher creative power. When I've created a story, and I know it has come out well, I often sit and look at it and I think, "I know who I am, and what I am about, and where I came from, and I can't understand where this came from." I've often said that talent is an unearned grace, that you didn't do anything to earn that talent. You can take pride in your craftsmanship, but the talent is just something you were born with.
So I am fascinated by the creative process, and know that it can't truly be understood. But in art, in music, in literature—all those expressions of the creative self—you're in touch with something bigger than yourself. It speaks to other people, not just because you've given your interpretation of the world, but because it expresses to people something they think and feel and know, and perhaps can't put into words.
In the book, Jonah meets a young woman who is a great writer, but also a lover of art and architecture. The girl takes Jonah to an art museum, where he sees a painting that touches him profoundly, and connects him to the creator of the painting, a connection spanning hundreds of years.
Great art can open your heart, and tell you something important about yourself. You can stand in a museum and have a hundred guides tell you what they think a painting means, but what it really means is what it means to you.And if art is really well done, and if you allow yourself to be truly open to it, then you can probably feel the very meaning that the artist himself gave to the art when he created it.
Even architecture gets elevated to the same place in The City.