And you think you’re in the U.S. for good?
We came just for family reasons, to do with my mother’s death and my wife’s stepfather’s death, and her mother is the same age as my mother when she died. And that’s what I said at every opportunity to the press in England—this was not a stalk out of England. Every chance I got. And yet it was treated as that. Fuck off to America.
They’ve been charging you with Americanism for a while.
Have you liked it so far? It seems like you’ve found it hospitable.
Very hospitable. And wonderful weather.
I can’t believe you’d say that.
Why, because it’s been so hot? All I care about is the color of the sky. I can’t believe how reliably pretty the skies are here.
And what do you make of Brooklyn?
Embarrassingly idyllic, really. Like living in the fifties—so philoprogenitive. You know, pregnant women everywhere—prams, kids. I like that. Just a gentle atmosphere. I don’t think I’d like Manhattan anymore. I like looking at it from a distance—it awes me. But it’s too noisy. The city that never sleeps—yeah, that’s right, the city where you never sleep.
Is it the same city that you depicted in Money in 1984?
It has much less edge now. Money has been like a douche through the whole city. My nagging thought about America is that it’s becoming more like a plutocracy than a democracy.
You arrived just in time for the election.
I’ve had the great pleasure of watching the incredible convulsions of the Republican Party. They’ve been pathetic. And I do think it’s a reaction to having a black president—despite everything they say, it’s been killing them. And what struck you in the primaries was how Romney was the only conceivably electable one of that lot.
None of the more credible candidates got in the race—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie.
Chris Christie is obviously a very smart Huey Long. And Jeb Bush—they’d written this one off, basically. I wish they’d gone the whole hog—Sarah Palin with Joe the Plumber as V.P. But they drew back from that. I passionately hope Obama does win.
You’re an admirer of his.
Sympathizer, too. Did he know how little a president can actually do? It’s been compared to this huge cruiser, and if you’ve got your hand on the tiller, you can’t actually change the angle more than a couple of degrees. I think he didn’t quite realize that—how many compromises he’d have to make. But if you see sympathetic journalists list what he has done, it’s not bad.
There was a period when American liberals were really envious of the British system—where whoever’s in charge is actually in charge. Now it seems that just lets you run things into a ditch a little more quickly.
It’s a fascinating time to be in America. I mean, how will it cope with decline?
You think decline is inevitable?
Well, it’s scheduled for 2043, when the Chinese economy will surpass it. But I’m not so sure about that—I think it could go on for much longer. I think that China has got some real trouble coming. Do you know how many protests there are in China? Three hundred a day. Often violent, large-scale. But the American century will turn out to have been, perhaps, a century, almost to the year.
Decline in one form or another has been one of your several great subjects.
Well, I’m afraid the negative things are always the great subjects. Failure is much more interesting than success. And we’re sort of biologically locked into decline. I interviewed Graham Greene for his 80th birthday, and I said—incredibly impertinently, it now seems—well, at least you’ve got religion. You’ll be needing that, soon. And he said, oh, no. My faith is much weaker than it used to be. Faith is a talent and it goes the way of all your talents. Getting old is the subtraction of your powers. Which very much goes for writing. And the writer in decline is a contribution of medical science—it didn’t used to come up, because they’re all dead. Dickens at 58, Shakespeare at 52, Jane Austen at 41. But now you have 80-year-old novelists. And it’s self-evident that the grasp and the gift erodes. I don’t see many exceptions to that rule.
Do you want to talk some about Christopher Hitchens?
I used to bow to his love of life, and always thought it was superior to mine. But it seems that what happens when it’s a friend that close—by which I mean that you grew up and grew along together, you got married about the same time, you got divorced about the same time, you had children, you had more children, all the crises were in parallel—when someone that’s as close as that goes, it’s as though they give you the job of loving life moment by moment. It’s your responsibility to inherit that love of life.