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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There was a gentler weapon, though, behind his bedroom door: not quite a cudgel but stouter than a walking stick, a weapon that had only once drawn blood. Boy's blood, to be exact. He reached for it before he went out on to the landing. He knew full well there'd be no sleep for him unless he made the effort straight away to, first, urinate—dilute that evening's alcohol with water from the bathroom tap—find the pillbox for some painkillers to chase off the worsening headache, and then go downstairs, undo the bolted doors and venture into the yard himself to pull the bins back on their feet. He'd have to see if he could find something heavy or some rope to secure their lids.

The stick, he persuaded himself, was only for any dogs that might be in the yard. A cornered dog, unlike a monkey or a cat, would rather bite an unarmed man than back away from feeding. But all dogs, even wild ones that had never known a master and a hearth, understood the meaning of a stick. They could not know that in this yard and on this night, the wielder of the stick was not a man to do much more than shake it from a distance.

Busi did not expect his current and his only neighbours in the house next door to offer any help or even stir, no matter how much barking there might be. Their rented villa, the Pastry House—once home to a family as celebrated for their baking as Busi was for his voice—was in even greater disrepair than the singer's. The tenants were much younger than him, a careless, cheerful gang of ten; students, he supposed, though he had never asked. They were evidently deaf at night and blind by day, and had scant desire to defend or to protect the yard they shared. Their old neighbour might have lived there all his life, as had his parents and grandparents; he might very well have been born in the same room as the one in which he now slept—but this was no concern of theirs. He was free to love his home, good luck to him; they were free to live their frenzied lives. So Busi was always the one who'd sweep and tidy up, restore the pots of fessandra shrubs—which Alicia had planted—to their pedestals, upright the bins and hose away the pellets and the droppings that the diners had deposited, their satisfied gratuities. One morning, after an especially metallic night, he had even had to drag a neighbour's motorcycle back on to its stand. He'd found it toppled in the yard and had mistaken it, in the half-light, for a beast, a shiny, slaughtered carcass with rubber-ended antlers, bleeding oil. He had been tempted once in a while to post a note through his neighbours' door, asking that—especially—they did not throw out their fish and meat waste without at least wrapping it and sealing it. Certainly they should make sure that the fodder they could not eat themselves should not be too easily retrieved by animals or settled on by flies. But he kept his grievance to himself. He had a reputation to protect as a calm, distinguished man, a man too tranquil to complain. Besides, he was a little nervous of the young, never having had a son or daughter of his own, never having had a sibling either.

There was a further reason, though, why Busi wanted to be armed, if only with a gentler weapon, a reason that defied all reason. He had never been keen, not since he was a child in this same house, to walk out on to the landing in the dark. The family home was disconcerting after dusk. It was not a settled building, despite its age, and had its own percussions, which for anyone with an imagination were as alarming as any beasts might be. It was constructed in the craftsman style, hand-built to have a bit of play-and-give in every joint and seam. Even the bulky painted paper on the walls was leafy and loose; it smelt of either sand or salt, depending on the season and the tides, and was irreplaceable, an heirloom in a way—but it was also all that stopped the ageing plaster-daub from crumbling. So it stayed and helped to absorb and soften the unrelenting racket of the house. The villa's timber frame and floors, the stairs and banisters in inlaid tarbony and lime, the veranda and the balcony, the heavy doors—all muttered, wheezed and fidgeted like ships, especially on tropic nights like this when the winds were coming off the sea, made vastly muscular by all its distances. Anyone alone upstairs, nervous, fretful, wide awake, might mishear the shifting wood as footsteps, or as an intruder tinkering downstairs, or nosing round, or treading not quite carefully enough on creaking boards. On decks. No lucky child, born into money, and certainly no widower, in fallow days, beleaguered by the dry and shrunken sorrows of a life alone, would return to sleep through that, would not imagine he had human visitors, intent on narrowing the gap between the moderately prosperous and the poor.

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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