High on the
Tuesday, 7th December, 1999
The view from up here is amazing, but it's too cold to write very much. My fingers can barely hold the pen. But I promised myself I'd start this letter before returning to England, and this really is my last chance.
Last thoughts, then, on leaving the European mainland? On coming home?
I'm scouring the horizon and looking for omens. Calm sea, clear blue sky. Surely that has to count for something.
People come up here to kill themselves, apparently. In fact there's a boy further down the path, standing dangerously close to the edge, who looks as though he may be planning to do exactly that. He's been standing there for as long as I've been on this bench and he's only wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Must be freezing.
Well, at least I haven't got to that point yet; although there have been some bad moments, these last few weeks. Moments when it seemed like I'd lost my bearings completely, that it was all spinning out of control. You must have known that feeling, once. In fact I know you did. Anyway, it's over now. Onwards and upwards.
Beneath me I can see Etretat, the wide curve of its beach, the pinnacled rooftops of the chateau where I stayed last night. I never did manage to explore the town. Funny how, when you have the freedom to do anything you want, you end up doing so little. Infinite choice seems to translate into no choice at all. I could have headed out for sole dieppoise and ended up being plied with free Calvados by a flirty waiter; instead I stayed inside and watched some old Gene Hackman movie dubbed into French.
Four out of ten, for that. See me afterwards. Could do better. Is this any way to begin a new life?
Am I really beginning a new life, in any case? Perhaps I'm just resuming an old one, after a long and finally pointless interruption.
On board the ferry, 'Pride of Portsmouth'
In the restaurant
Tuesday, 7th December, 1999
I wonder how they manage to make a profit from this line, at this time
of year? Apart from me and the man behind the counter--what should I
call him, is he the steward or purser or something?--this place is
deserted. It's dark outside now and there is rain flecking the windows.
Perhaps it's just spray. Makes me want to shiver looking at it, even
though it's warm inside, almost overheated.
I'm writing this letter in the little A5 notebook I bought in Venice. It has a silky blue hardback cover with a marbled pattern, and lovely thick, roughly cut pages. When I've finished--if I ever finish--I suppose I could always cut the pages out and put them in an envelope. But there wouldn't be much point, would there? Anyway, it hasn't got off to a flying start. Rather self-indulgent so far, I'd say. You'd think I'd know how to write to you, after the thousands and thousands of words I've written in the last few years. But somehow, every new letter I write to you feels like the first one.
I've got a feeling this is going to be the longest of all.
Excerpted from The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Coe. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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