The Melody by Jim Crace
Jim Crace’s twelfth novel is less concerned with fighting for one’s desires, but of letting go, graciously or otherwise. Alfred is not only mourning the death of his wife, but also his celebrity status as the town’s popular composer and songster, while musing on what-might-have-been with his wife’s elegant older sister. But, while change might be inevitable at both individual and societal levels, there is an element of choice regarding the casualties and beneficiaries. Alfred is reluctant for the profits from his estate to go to his nephew, yet no-one in the town is prepared to champion the homeless and poor. Sadly, in a novel that reads like a fable, I found the heartless slum clearance under the cover of securing a safe haven for wildlife, all too credible.
Nevertheless, I found this a frustrating read: slow to get going and leaving me with a sense that there must be a deeper issue that I’m missing. Maybe, having enjoyed three of the author’s earlier novels – Being Dead, The Pesthouse and especially Quarantine – I expected too much. But I had a sense of being teased about the boundary between fiction and reality, especially regarding the setting in some unnamed seaside town in continental Europe during the second half of the twentieth century (reminding me of The Museum of Things Left Behind). The author seemed to be writing with his tongue in his cheek, but how far? Thanks to Picador for my review copy.
The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F John
There’s something irresistible about Jack Turner, something connecting Henry with his dead wife. Before long the men have become a couple, but if a single man in charge of a pram arouses suspicion, two men looks far worse. Especially when Ruby’s friend, Matilda, is looking for an outlet for the pain of her fragmenting marriage and grief for her own failure to conceive.
Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, Rebecca F John’s debut is a tender tale of love and loss and depravity. (After the collapse of the General Strike, the Bright Young Things hold a party where they dress up as defeated miners.) Thanks to Serpent’s Tail for my review copy.