Best known as Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler depicts a series of unfortunate events for teenage Cole in his latest novel, All The Dirty Parts (Bloomsbury, £12.99) . Cole is a typical teenager – he runs cross country, sketches, jokes around with friends – but nothing is as important to him as sex, actual and virtual. An unblinking take on teenage desire, All The Dirty Parts raises timely questions about the possibilities and risks of living in a culture of unrelenting explicitness.
The book explores the impact pornography has on young people’s expectations of the opposite sex. Do you think this is a problem that is particularly prolific in modern culture, where pornography is so easily accessible? And how can it be addressed?
I hope the novel asks questions about the liberating possibilities of our explicit culture but also its dangers. Young people’s exploration of their own erotic imaginations – to challenge, for instance, the assumption that everyone is only thinking about the opposite sex – can be a double-edged blade, and I think we as a culture are just beginning to think about it.
The novel takes a candid look at the erotic impulses of a sex-crazed young man. Is the book aimed at readers of a similar age?
I don’t have targets in mind while writing my books – anyone is welcome into the conversation. My American publishers had to think for a long time about whether this book could be published specifically for young people before deciding that the rather stern supervision over such literature, at least in the States, would make it impossible.
The protagonist, Cole, is handed a pretty harsh life lesson, but some would say it is deserved. How do you make a character who does bad things likeable?
Well, all of us do bad things sooner or later, and we’re all liked, at least by someone. I hope readers find Cole vulnerable as the book proceeds. Vulnerable people are more challenging to despise.
Cole meets his match in Grisaille. How important was it for you to portray a young female who is unapologetically sexually driven?
The real challenge was to find a story for her that didn’t cater to the various reductive narratives we tend to place on sexually active young women.
The conclusion of the book sees Cole in a desolate situation. Does society equips young men to deal with their emotions effectively?
Not at all. There seems little place for men to discuss heartbreak, particularly in its rawest form, often further seared by sexual jealousy. We would apparently rather see men in rage than in tears.
Does society take the thoughts and feelings of young people seriously enough?
In this age it would be foolish to say the thoughts of young people are going undocumented, but I don’t think we’re listening much to what is being said.
You are perhaps best known under your pen name Lemony Snicket. How do you balance life as two different writers? Do Lemony Snicket and Daniel Handler have different notebooks?
It’s very generous of you to add the word “perhaps”! I never thought I would be a writer who got much attention, so it would be unseemly to have any complaints over the hardships of literary visibility. Mr Snicket and I share a notebook but use different pages in it, so there’s not even an argument when I am reminded of a delicious word I must use.
Your last book, We Are Pirates, also centred on a teenage protagonist. What makes teenagers such interesting subjects?
Young people compel me, narratively. Everything is possibility and in flux – where better than that to root a story?