C/O Charlotte Schwartz
Questions of literary expression and political tensions at the core of this alum’s debut novel
Chinmayi Yathiraju, contributor
Amidst an enduring global pandemic and rising political tensions, one needs only scroll through social media to become uncomfortably aware of our precarious and shifting political climate. There are several difficult issues that arise in the face of this transition, including the effects of individual actions on our political atmosphere and the turning of blind eyes to social issues. These are the kinds of issues alumnus Luke Beirne explores in his debut novel, Foxhunt.
Having grown up surrounded by books and a father who is a writer, literature has always been a constant in Beirne’s life. During his undergraduate studies, his passion for writing developed further when he took creative writing courses. Since then, Beirne has written in a freelance capacity and has been published in various magazines including the Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine. Foxhunt is his debut novel.
Set in 1950s London, Foxhunt follows Canadian writer, Milne Lowell, who leaves Montreal to work for a literary magazine supporting free expression. However, with rising political tensions and the progression of the Cold War, suspicions about the magazine’s affiliations begin to rise, leading to disconcerting encounters and calling everything Lowell knows into question.
The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.
“I thought it was an interesting thing that one of the largest literary magazines in London at that time was being used for propaganda purposes. One of the things about that magazine was that people claim they didn’t know . . . if they really didn’t know that they were contributing to propaganda, how could their words be used for propaganda purposes?” said Beirne.
During his years completing his master’s degree in cultural studies and critical theory at McMaster University, Beirne’s research led him to a similar story of another magazine from the United States. Fuelled by his interest in literary culture and his fascination with the history of the Cold War and political propaganda, Beirne began writing Foxhunt in the fall of 2018. The novel took shape over the next three years, with much of his initial draft having been written at his home in New Brunswick.
In researching the historical context relevant to his novel, Beirne was able to delve into the relationship between the Cold War and the professionalization of creative writing. He was intrigued to learn the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop, which has inspired and offered the framework for creative writing programs and workshops across the world, had links to the Cold War.
“I thought that it was very interesting, that the way that creative writing has been structured — and is still structured — has certain political implications,” said Beirne.
While his previous works have centered around genre fiction, Beirne considers Foxhunt to be a distinctly character driven novel. Grappling with complex social phenomena and the development and spread of propaganda, this is a novel he hopes will stay with readers long after turning the last page.
Beyond simply enjoying the story, Beirne hopes readers walk away with questions and can return to the story to find new insights and develop new interpretations.
“People go along in their daily lives and don’t think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things,” said Beirne.
Brimming with suspense, political drama and allusions to various literary works, Foxhunt is a rich and thought-provoking novel on the pursuit of creative expression as it is entangled with the surrounding political climate.
Foxhunt will be released on April 1, 2022.