- Jim Crace
- London, England: Picador, 2018
Where to find it
Alfred Busi, famed and beloved in his town for his music and songs, is now in his sixties, mourning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days alone in the large villa he has always called home. The night before he is due to attend a ceremony at the town's avenue of fame, Busi is attacked by a creature he disturbs as it raids the contents of his larder. Busi is convinced that the thing that attacked him was no animal, but a child, 'innocent and wild', and his words fan the flames of old rumour - of an ancient race of people living in the bosk surrounding the town - and new controversy: the town's paupers, the feral wastrels at its edges must be dealt with. Once and for all.As Busi's nephew's ambitious plans for himself and the town develop, he is able to fan the flames of rumour and soon Busi and the town he loves will be altered irrevocably. The Melody by Jim Crace is a story about grief and ageing, about reputation and the loss of it, about love and music and the peculiar way myth seeps into real life. And it is a political novel too - a rallying cry to protect those we persecute. It is lyrical and warm, intimate and epic, a powerful future classic.
Yes, Busi was a moderately prosperous man, prosperous in everything except love, let's say. There might no longer be a pressing need for him to sing for supper but he had been a lifelong devotee of making music, and so perform he would, he hoped, until at least the hour of his death. He'd join in the hymns and liturgy at his own funeral, he liked to tell an audience. They'd press their ears against the coffin lid and catch his lasting voice or hear him singing from his little urn of ashes. That would be his one reward, and theirs. Yes, Mister Al would hold us rapt right to the end. No one who knew him doubted that. He never doubted it himself. Nonetheless, presenting a formal address while wearing a tie and without a piano at his side, as he had undertaken to do at noon, would be an ordeal. What he called his "missing limb" would be on show for everyone to see; he had never had the gift of making people laugh, the power to amuse, except in song. And so the very thought of standing up to speak and not to sing laced his stomach stiff and tight as boots. Busi badly needed six or seven hours of unbroken sleep if he were to face the day ahead with any confidence. But on that night before the speech, the animal banquet in the yard had been uncommonly disturbing. Usually these nocturnal looters went first for water at the drain and then took what they could, the easy pickings, the offcuts and the peel and anything that could be gripped and dragged through the bins' air vents and punctures. Then they'd hurry off elsewhere and Busi would be left in peace, resting if not quite asleep. This time, though, the wind had helped the larger feeders, strengthened and emboldened by their hunger, to topple the bins and let them spill. The containers had been full and ready for emptying, and so there was enough to keep the feeders busy in the yard and keep the neighborhood awake for quite a while. Busi peered down from the bedroom window for a second time that night. The clouds had curtained out the moon and stars. The only illumination, from the streetlamps on the promenade at the front of the house, was too low and distant to trespass in the yard. He turned an ear toward the four glass panes. There was always more to hear than see in these unlit hours--not only the animals but also the buffeting of the wind, the swish and crackle of the trees, the clonk of loosened gates, and, farther off, the sea. Feeders at the bins would normally follow the trampled game trails in the bosk and come down the loose limestone escarpment at the back of the Busi villa. Busi hadn't scrambled up it since he was a boy, but he could remember coming home more than once with thorn-shredded legs, a twisted ankle, and bruised hands, to be greeted by the zesty sting of salve as his mother wiped him clean. The bosk behind his home and to its east was treacherous and steep, so any creature descending to the yard and breaking cover there was bound to signal its approach with shifting lime scree or the dislodging of a rock or the snapping of a branch, and Busi could then expect on busy nights a tinny symphony of bins and the bickers, the barks and snarls of warring animals. There were the usual noises, certainly. And movement too. Now that his eyes had adapted to the gloom, Busi could make out the liquid shadows of his visitors and the eye shine of cats, but little else. When Alicia was still alive, he'd occasionally seen torch lights in the yard and then had known that there were humans at the feast, some street folk hoping for a rich man's meal, some beggars from the Mendicant Gardens who'd come into the yard to push their old boots through the scrap and spot whatever might be edible, or usable, or valuable, or bright. The poor were quieter than the other animals, and warier. They were both predator and prey, and understood what trespassing amounted to, if caught. They'd lift the lids and turn the bins as carefully as maids unpacking porcelain. Only once had one of them attempted to come into the villa, but he--or she, perhaps--had taken fright as soon as he had sensed the pair of faces looking down from the high window. Busi and Alicia had been woken by the forcing open of the yard gate--not a maneuver yet perfected by any animal--and now could witness their visitor's alarm and his retreat, and hear the hurried and receding footsteps on the street. On this night, as far as Busi could tell, the diners were too small and confident and raucous for beggars. He knew that there would be no point in banging his knuckles on a windowpane in the hope of scattering these guests. At best, some moist and apprehensive faces (if animals have faces, that's to say) would look up idly at the noise and then continue snouting. Mostly he would be ignored. He hardly merited the baring of a fang. The ill-tempered rap of old man's bone on glass was not a language they could bother with. Feeding counted more than fear. "Get yourself a shotgun," his nephew had advised, too frequently; his nephew, Joseph, on his dead wife's side and a man not miserly about sharing his opinions. "Sell up, Uncle," he would say. "This place is far too large for one." Or "Why not take in summer lodgers? Unless you want your rooms to stale." Or "You ought to find yourself an honest maid." Joseph had no idea how his uncle hoped to pass his days, and wanted none. Shotguns suited him, so shotguns should suit everyone. But, as Busi liked to tell his friends and any fans or journalists who visited the house, he was--at least, since he'd discovered microphones--one of nature's doves. Alicia had often called him that--the Chanson Dove, the singer with the Feathered Voice (both titles used for concert tours and his recordings). He was a coo- ner rather than a crooner, she had said, too often in his view; a lyricist of his finesse could not approve of feeble puns no matter who the composer might be, no matter that she was adored. He was "the broker of tranquility," according to the obituary already waiting to be printed on his death. His low notes were "his sedatives, and his aphrodisiacs." His reputation--his self-image, actually; his vanity--rested on his seeming calm and his composure. His worth was proven by his modesty. Busi could hardly be the man, no matter how disturbed he was, to open out the high window and point a weapon into the night, let alone disturb his neighbors' sleep with gunshot, let alone harm anything. Excerpted from The Melody by Jim Crace All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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- London, England: Picador, 2018
- 275 pages. ; 23 cm.
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