As a puzzle and crossword maker, it’s no surprise Christopher Yates enjoys a good game. But his novel “Black Chalk” takes the idea of friendly competition to a whole new level implying that life itself is a game. “Why else do you think we call ourselves the human race?” the book asks.
“There’s a quote I like from Gore Vidal: ‘Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little,’” Christopher Yates says. “Some people say it’s a great quote and really expresses something true. Other people are absolutely mystified. They can’t understand the idea of being jealous by someone else’s success.”
Truth and consequences
The book is about six friends studying at Oxford University who make up a game. At first the consequences of losing a round are silly. But over time, the consequences become life-altering, at times deeply humiliating and ultimately change the players forever.
“I came up with the idea for the very game with a friend when I was at Oxford,” Yates says. “We never played the game, which is probably fortunate. But to a large degree, writing this book was me imagining what would happen if we did play the game.”
The structure of the book jumps between present day and the college days in 1991. The narrator is a recluse living in the East Village in New York, and at times, the reader doesn’t actually know which one of the characters is narrating the book. Yates uses various other tricks to keep the reader guessing the whole way through.
“I did a lot of those things as a way to entertain myself while I wrote it,” he says. “I think I almost turned the book into some sort of puzzle, even a puzzle for myself, and I had to work out how to make the different pieces work together to make a satisfying structure for the reader.”
Compeition cause and effect
Yates says the way a person plays a game says a lot about their psyche. “Almost any time competition gets involved, it can reveal something about the people who are playing it,” he says. “Almost any game can descend into casting a bad light on human behavior.”
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