Excerpt from The Melody by Jim Crace, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Melody

by Jim Crace

The Melody by Jim Crace X
The Melody by Jim Crace
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat

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Their home—one of the two surviving seaside villas at the old end of the promenade, beyond the new hotels and restaurants and the fashionable marble-faced apartment crescents with their costly slivers of an ocean view—had been a passion for them both. The grand—the grandiose—first-floor window with its curving wrought-iron balcony and flaking paint afforded three contrasting and distinctive outlooks that added value to what had become in recent years, since Alicia, a run-down property. To the west, there was a narrow prospect of the town—the seaside shopping street, some modern frontages, its ramshackle aquarium and a skyline rising steeply from the bay, which was a largely unspoilt frieze of historic towers, domes and spires. To the east, there were glimpses from the balcony of wooded slopes and the progress-defying remnant forest beyond, the only day-time darkness that we had near town, the almost-wilderness, a confined headland of trees hemmed in between the buildings and the sea-cliffs. This was what the French would call garrigue but we born here know better as the bosk, a tangled, aromatic, salt-resistant maze of sea-thorn, carob and pine scrub. And to the front? A paved square where cars and carriages could turn, and a fussy planted garden with benches from which passers-by could watch the blinding cinema of sea.

This was where, on Sunday afternoons and summer evenings, the more cautious citizens in their buffed shoes would end their walks along the waterfront and head back into town on paving slabs rather than chance their ankles on the pebble beach or risk the unattended forest tracks. The older ones would look up at the house, perhaps, knowing that their Mister Al had lived there all his life. Was that the man himself, standing at the window, with a novel in his hand? Was that him, old and naked from the waist up, balanced on a chair to change a bulb? Was that the singer eating lunch, alone, on his defiant balcony? Then, afterwards, they might even catch themselves humming 'Babel, Babel' or 'The Drowning Sailor Speaks of Love'. Those were the titles that still earned Busi modest royalties and kept his reputation—unlike the hero of his song—just afloat, its head above the water.

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 neighbourhood awake for quite a while.

Excerpted from The Melody by Jim Crace. Copyright © 2018 by Jim Crace. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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