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Why Faith, Hope and Carnage is The Big Issue Book of the Year 2022

This series of rabbit-hole interviews with Nick Cave by his friend, the Irish journalist Sean O’Hagan, brings new depth to the art of the interview.  

It sounds like the dream assignment for an ardent book lover and avid book reader; the chance to wax
lyrical about your favourite book of the year. But it isn’t. It is tortuous. The more great books you’ve read, the more agonising it is. Because settling on The Big Issue Book of the Year isn’t just about choosing a personal favourite. I have a long list of 2022 books which delivered on the major fronts: originality, emotional heft, intelligence, poetry, good jokes. Revelatory books that op­ened a new world to me. Treasure troves of curios and secrets. Books that followed me around like imploring ghosts, or skulked into my head every night like stalking prayers. But The Big Issue Book of the Year requires a very special quality beyond even those things; it should be a rare gift which enhances its readers’ minds and has a genuine effect on their lives. 

It is this seismic and probably unreasonable demand which decided me. Faith, Hope and Carnage is an epiphany. This series of rabbit-hole interviews with musician/songwriter/poet Nick Cave by his friend, the Irish journalist Sean O’Hagan, brings new depth and consequence to the art of the interview.  

Fans of Cave will know that recent  years have hit the artist for six. His 15-year-old son Arthur – a “beautiful, happy, loving boy” in his father’s words – died suddenly when he fell off a cliff in 2015. Unsurprisingly, this changed Cave fundamentally as a human being and, in ways he only began to grasp a few years later, as an artist. Hollowed out by a grief so powerful he said he could feel it tear through his body, one wondered if the man who notoriously hated doing interviews would ever speak publicly again. 

Then a miraculous thing happened. Cave created an open forum, The Red Hand Files, and invited fans to ask him “anything”. In response to questions more penetrating and personal than any journalist would have felt comfortable asking, Cave was open and frank. The man known for his instinct to guard his privacy and shatter the protective shield of mainstream art with “dissonance and disruption” became the welcoming host of a home for shared pain. 

Faith, Hope and Carnage explains how and why this transformation happened, and why Cave now feels more like “a citizen, a neighbour, a father, a husband” than an artist. One of the first things he did when Arthur died was to get rid of the office where he (Cave) wrote. Suddenly it felt like a place of grotesque self-absorption. The revered master of deep, dark song scoffed at his own inflated sense of importance, and gradually surrendered to a very different urge; to find a way out of crippling sadness and embrace life again. He began to understand that creativity and the imagination were more than tools of his trade; they could help form crucial steps on his journey towards psychological recovery.  

O’Hagan’s 40 hours of conversation venture into many aspects of Cave’s rich multiverse; his youth and musical history, his changing ideas and beliefs regarding art, family, friendship and God. His tone is sincere, his considerations profound and at times convincingly spiritual (an aspect that impressed the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who praised this “absolutely wonderful” book, adding, “I don’t think I’ve ever read so integrated and searching an engagement with how faith works, how creativity works, and how grief is bound up with both.”) It’s a relief to be reminded that Cave is also a very funny guy, with a droll sense of humour never deemed out of bounds.  

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Whether or not you enjoy Cave’s music, or have suffered disarming grief, this is a book of revelations. The afterword, which explains that one of Cave’s other sons, Jethro Lazenby, died at the age of 31 just after the book was written, will feel like a kick in the gut. But Cave has not closed himself off in the wake of that tragedy as he did at first after Arthur’s death, and this book will help you understand why. 

Faith, Hope and Carnage’s authors respond to being The Big Issue’s Book of the Year

“I’m so happy that Faith, Hope and Carnage is book of the year in The Big Issue. The book means a great deal to me — a strange, risky, unorthodox book, that I am delighted has been so well received. Many thanks to The Big Issue for the support.” Nick Cave

“So amazing to have Faith, Hope and Carnage chosen as The Big Issue’s Book of the Year. I’m gobsmacked! I thought the book would be a slow burner, so what do I know? Thank you for this accolade. It means a lot.” Sean O’Hagan

Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave & Sean O’Hagan

Faith, Hope and Carnageby Nick Cave & Sean O’Hagan is out now (Canongate Books, £22). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

Jane Graham is The Big Issue books editor
@janeannie

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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