Behind the glass with Alex Christofi

Arts co editor Ruth Waters met local first time novelist, Alex Christofi, author of Glass.

Local author Alex Christofi
Local author Alex Christofi

By writing an account of a fictional celebrity window cleaner local author Alex Chrisofi has steered clear of debut novelist cliche by a country mile. Glass, his debut novel published earlier this year, offers the reader a fast-paced plot with plenty of big ideas, following an unlikely hero, Gunter Glass, from farcical mayhem to finding a life-proof philosophy. Glass has earned Alex  the respect of readers and critics alike and was long listed for the prestigious Desmond Elliott prize.

“First and foremost I wanted to write a story which people would want to read – if I managed to add in layers of ideas that’s a bonus.” Alex is too modest: Glass is full of references to big ideas, and each page is adorned with footnotes and asides. But that’s not to say it lacks feeling – Alex tells me about his important preservation of a very human “heart” to his novel.

On the book’s bizarre central motif, window cleaning, the author was far from the expert as he drafted the novel. “I hadn’t even cleaned a single window when I was writing the book… It might have seemed more obvious to write about a university professor who talks explicitly about ideas, but I wanted to find a sideways way of looking at the where idealism meets reality,” and that’s where glass and window cleaning came in.

Behind the Glass - inset imageGlass is full of London and it’s changing people and landscape, nothing more firmly centre stage than the Shard,which adorns the front cover and plays a central part in the plot.“The  Shard was being built at the time I was writing and I wanted to join this emblem of the a shard trying to escape the rest of the city and contrast that with someone very earthly and human, who is also looking to escape.”

As we chat, it’s clear that Alex has taken a lot of inspiration from London life – both the high points and low.“London is a strange, brilliant and sometimes depressing place. It can be very cold to outsiders, yet everywhere you turn there’s some kind of opportunity. I wanted to capture some of the possibility and madness of this city.”

No stranger to compromise and contrast in his own life, Alex’s first job after graduation in the midst of the financial crisis in 2008 was helping to run a blog about the recession. A job writing about not having a job, whilst he looked for a real job. “ I felt that there was this this generation going through a quarter life crisis… who were grown up  but still kind of a baby and I felt that no one was writing about that.”

As far as life as a writer in Brixton, Alex makes it sound the dream.  His favorite writing spots include the BCA cafe and Upstairs at the Ritzy. “If I need to write and I’m hungry then I’m off to the Phoenix Cafe where he knows my order before I’ve even said anything.” Despite first moving to a sprawling house on Brixton Hill with a terrifying landlord, Alex continues to be amazed by “how many different and interesting people [live and work in Brixton]. It’s  tolerant to the point of complete indifference to eccentricity.”

Currently working on the ‘difficult second novel’ Alex is optimistic. “It’s going to be quite different to Glass. It’s set in Paris in the late 50s.” Another unlikely hero I wonder? “Ummm he’s a bit more normal actually.” Gunter, like the novel as a whole, is one of a kind.