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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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 street lamps on the promenade at the front of the house, was too low and distant to trespass in the yard. He turned an ear towards 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, further 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 in 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 manoeuvre 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 shot-gun,' 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. Shot-guns suited him, so shot-guns 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 tranquillity', 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 neighbours' sleep with gun-shot, let alone harm anything.

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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