The whole truth, and nothing but the truth? | Lawrence Gatt

Former Nationalist minister turned novelist Lawrence Gatt speaks to us about his latest novel, whose plot hits quite close to home.

Lawrence Gatt. Photo by Gino Galea.
Lawrence Gatt. Photo by Gino Galea.

It's not unheard of for politicians to discover a 'second wave' career in the arts - be it painting, writing or whatever - but perhaps former Nationalist Agriculture Minister Lawrence Gatt may have more personal-political baggage to pass through the fictional mill than most.

Having just released his latest novel - the legal thriller 'Il-Gurament tal-Hatra', published by Merlin Publishers - Gatt remains adamant in his decision to depict realistic scenarios, more often than not stemming from his own biography and which do not indulge in "exaggerated fantasy or excessive imagination, which tend to be far removed from reality, even though I am aware that there are many who like reading stories of this type".

'Il-Gurament tal-Hatra' ('The Oath of Appointment') tells the story of up-and-coming lawyer Giovanni, who stumbles upon a spot of trouble as soon as he's promoted to Magistrate. After a friend of his daughter Francesca is caught in possession of hard drugs, Giovanni is pressured into keeping the case hush-hush.

Meanwhile, Giovanni receives a life-changing letter, which has a bearing on his son's new romantic relationship.

It would hardly take a leap into "exaggerated fantasy" to assume that Gatt was drawing on personal experience to at least some degree when devising his novel. Just under two decades ago, Gatt's son Etienne was embroiled in a similar legal drama - his name having been featured in the notorious diary of Italian resident Ciro del Negro, who claimed Gatt's political office was used for encounters between shady underworld characters like Emanuel Camilleri 'il-Bully', who was later imprisoned over drug trafficking.

His son has since absconded from the island, refusing to be questioned by police, and remains abroad.

Lawrence Gatt distances himself from the case slightly when discussing his new book in relation to biographical matters, describing the main plot as being "triggered by personal experience" and involving a "close acquaintance" of his.

However, he's frank about the injustices he perceives to have come out of the story in the end. The said "close acquaintance" was, according to Gatt, "smeared by some of the media even though he was simply a witness in an important court case, and this because he had information about certain facts. Then, when a high-ranking police officer declared under oath, that this person was not being accused of anything, nobody reported this statement."

Shifting the focus to the narrative of his novel, Gatt elaborates on some of the parallels it holds with real-life events, and the ultimate 'message' of the book.

"In the novel the protagonist is accused with an offense which he had not committed, though he is, however, found partly guilty of this offense. His fear is that his name will be splashed over the media - though this doesn't happen," Gatt says, claiming that the media can sometimes have such a stronghold over public opinion that it can even override the legal process, at least in people's minds.

"Had his name been made known by the media, all those reading and hearing about him would have considered him to be guilty. All those who would not have come to know that this case had ended with his innocence being affirmed, then these would have continued to consider him guilty for life. The message I wanted to put across is evident: everyone is innocent until proven guilty."

But irrespective of the drama which lies at the centre of the book, Gatt is keen to emphasise that he still has faith in the Maltese legal system, a belief embodied in the protagonist of Il-Gurament tal-Hatra - the upright Giovanni.

"Another statement I wanted to make with the book is that even the most upright and steadfast person can make a mistake. No one is infallible."