4.5, rounded up This didn t have quite the same impact on me as his previous novel, Harvest, did Like several other reviewers I have read here, I was also rooting for it to win the 2013 Booker Prize This new novel and I am thankful there is one since Crace announced his retirement in 2013 is not quite the masterpiece that Harvest is, but it is still excellent and the writing is gorgeous Little here to criticize. This is only my second experience of Jim Crace s work My first was Harvest which really should have won The Man Booker Prize even though I really like The Luminaries that did win that year After reading The Melody, I certainly won t be stopping at just two of his books I imagine I will be adding all of the rest to my TBR pile.Crace lulls you into a false sense of security He peppers his works with seemingly realist detail It is only when you realise that most of it is invented that he sort of pulls the rug from under your feet He quotes Mondazy again and again, who doesn t exist People drink Boulevard Liqueur, which doesn t exist And so on I read somewhere that this is often referred to a Crace land The acknowledgements at the end of the book are mostly invented.The Melody is set in an unnamed town the final acknowledgement reads I also ought to thank the people of at which point the book has nocontent that feels like it might be somewhere in the Mediterranean or possibly somewhere else and it might be about 100 years ago although possibly a completely different time I am purely guessing based on people being sent to Ellis Island to go to America It faces the ocean and behind it is the bosk No, I don t know either But the text makes it clear that means a sort of wilderness area Alfred Busi is an ageing singer, a widower, famous and about to be honoured by this unnamed town where he has lived all his life He is used to foraging noises from his backyard but one night when he goes to investigate, he is attacked by a strange creature, presumably one of the wild inhabitants of the bosk This sets us up for a book that is, simultaneously, a lament for lost love and a political commentary on the battle between rich and poor Busi is lamenting the loss of his wife and the book s title comes from the tune he works on based on the sound of the Persian bells that sound each time his larder is opened and which he associates with his wife s midnight snacks In parallel, the other melody is the clashing of rubbish bins as the poor forage for food The town wrestles with the problem of what to do with its poor people as developers, including Busi s nephew, seek to demolish Busi s house and the surrounding area where the undesirables live.You have to keep your wits about you as you read The book s narrator, who does eventually reveal himself, addresses us as readers as if we are familiar with the locality and refers to events as if he assumes we know about them The narrative is tricky with tense there s a particular passage where Busi has a dream whichhe would be retellinginless than an hourthat is about concert goerselated by the music they had heardat one of his future concerts, if he had actually turned up At the same time, Crace often has a wonderful turn of phrase that makes reading the book a real pleasure.It s a compelling mixture of personal grief and community politics It makes a farsubtle but similar call for environmental conservation to that in The Overstory by Richard Powers It challenges us about how we behave towards those who are different to us in our community.A beautiful book 4.5 stars I seriously thought about 5 stars and may go back there after it has time to settle with me. From The Booker Prize Shortlisted Author Of Harvest, Quarantine, And Being Dead, A Tender New Novel About Music, Celebrity, Local Intrigue, And Lost Love All Set By The Mediterranean SeaAside From His Trusty Piano, Alfred Busi Lives Alone In His Villa Overlooking The Waves Famed In His Town For His Music And Songs, He Is Mourning The Recent Death Of His Wife And Quietly Living Out His Days, Occasionally Performing The Classics In Small Venues Never In The Stadiums He Could Fill When In His Prime On The Night Before Receiving His Town S Highest Honor, Busi Is Wrested From Bed By Noises In His Courtyard And Then Stunned By An Attacking Intruder His Hands And Neck Are Scratched, His Face Is Bitten Busi Can T Say What It Was That He Encountered, Exactly, But He Feels His Assailant Was Neither Man Nor AnimalThe Attack Sets Off A Chain Of Events That Will Cast A Shadow On Busi S Career, Imperil His Home, And Alter The Fabric Of His Town Busi S Own Account Of What Happened Is Embellished To Fan The Flames Of Old Rumor Of An Ancient Race Of People Living In The Surrounding Forest And To Spark New Controversy Something Must Finally Be Done About The Town S Poor, The Feral Vagabonds At Its Edges, Whose Numbers Have Been Growing All The While Busi, Weathering A Media Storm, Must Come To Terms With His Wife S Death And Decide Whether To Sing One Last TimeIn Trademark Crystalline Prose, Jim Crace Portrays A Man Taking Stock Of His Life And Looking Into An Uncertain Future, All While Bearing Witness To A Community In The Throes Of Great Change With Echoes Of Today S Most Pressing Social Questions He teased a phrase that might reveal a melody, if he worked on it Would he find the energy to work on it He hadn t written anything worthwhile for a year and , so why continue now Jim Crace s previous novel was the outstanding Harvest, which he announced at the time as his last novel It was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker which in my view it should have won and for the inaugural 2013 Goldsmith where it came up against the literary phenomenon that was A Girl Is a Half formed Thing However two years later, it went on to win the 2015 International Dublin Literary award That award, which starts with nominations from public libraries around the world, is renowned both for the breadth and depth of its extensive longlist for example 150 books in 2018 and for its extensive prize money Euros 100,000 or for translated books Euros 75,000 to the author and Euros 25,000 to the translator to which literature owes a debt Daniel Hahn, translator of the 2017 winner, A General Theory of Oblivion, very admirably used some of his winnings to establish the TA First Translation Prize For Crace the money from the various prizes effectively lead to him reconsidering his retirement from fiction Prize money is not for spending on a cruise or golf club membership It s supposed to pay forbooks, so the puritan in me said I owed the prizes a novel.The genesis of the novel he produced is explained on his website, and is worth reproducing at length My novels tend to spring from something puzzling or troubling beyond my experience a About three years ago, I was on the tenth floor of a lavish hotel in Chennai, India everything was perfect except for one annoyance I couldn t sleep because of the ceaseless, metallic racket from the waste ground below my suite I looked down from the window on my first restless night to watch the hotel s garbage bins being toppled over and raided for food scraps by, mostly, feral dogs and a few other animals I couldn t, in that half light, put a name to A couple of them looked alarmingly like children what I d witnessed at the bins had been a distressing and sobering sight, not just because of the disparity between my pampered life and theirs but also because it made me speculate from my elevated viewpoint how biologically debasing and destructive poverty must be That was the seed for the novel and it provided the question the narrative would hope to answer What occupies the space between the human mammals in their hotel rooms and those amongst the bins A realist, autobiographical writer might have set the novel in 21st century Chennai I was wary of that whatever I wrote would seem like a narrow, judgemental, post colonial misrepresentation there were plenty of talented Indian writers who would make a truer job of it than I ever could that meant making up an unnamed nation of my own, something I am very fond of doing The Melody is set in a time long lost the late 1920s, say , on a coast unnamed by the Mediterranean, perhaps and in a town unbuilt, except within the pages of the novel. And the Melody opens with the scene that inspired it Alfred Busi, a recently widowed famous within the town musician, composer and singer, is disturbed, as he is often is, by animals from the nearby woodland bosk foraging in his bins, but when investigating is assaulted by a creature that has raided his larder, a creature he is convinced is a wild, human child His account of the evening is sensationalised by a local journalist who links the story to an alleged crime wave carried out by the homeless and disposed of the town his article in turn being embellished by an inflammatory interview with Alfred s nephew son of his wife s sister , a rapacious property developer, who uses the word Neanderthals to link the homeless, dog whistle style, to a local legend of sub humans living in the bosk Alfred feels inspired to stand up for the poor and homeless who are increasingly being oppressed by the businessman of the town albeit his resolution tested when the same weekend, he is robbed and beaten while walking in the area where they stay during the day an area which they are cleared from at night He also finds to his horror that his nephew is planning a scheme to demolish his beloved villa and clear the bosk of its animal inhabitants and replace it with a huge development.The book itself proceeds at a gentle pace, written in the third person but with an initially unnamed second party plural narrator following the thoughts which later turn out to be second hand reminiscences of Alfred, but also his sister in law, a student who lives next door to his villa and even the journalist it is less clear how the narrator has access to these At the same time, Crace sketches a convincing and often beautiful picture of Alfred s oeuvre of the ageing of an artist and a man his repertoire was like his sex life nowadays, retrospective, elderly and of the life, customs , legends and geography of the town, a fictional portrait which carries over into the epigraph and acknowledgements The book also gives a beautiful portrait of widowerhood, especially widowerhood following a lengthy and loving marriage.This is not a book with any clear narrative drive or resolution the unknown narrator for example has to explain their link to the story and it really adds little and there are elements that I felt did not really add to the story for example the lack of an o on the journalist s typewriter I also felt that the macro themes of the book capitalism, exploitation and the brutalising effects of poverty were treated in what was often an unsubtle way a muckraking journalist, greedy businessmen clearing out old houses and wilderness for soulless developments which sat oddly alongside the subtlety of the micro writing But Crace remains a brilliant writer, and if this book does not hit the heights of Harvest there is still much to like in it Busi knew his voice of late had lost some of its caverns and peaks Age had weakened and reduced it But what he missed in range, he s gained in craft Update re read for Waterstones Book club February 2019.I love revisiting novels, and the opportunity to read a story without having to worry about plot and outcomes, invariably increases my appreciation and enjoyment of the book.Melody proved to be an exception to this I continue to make allowances for Jim Crace s whimsical style, and his deliberate silliness and inventiveness Take some bits of the story seriously, but otherwise enjoy the pure fantasy of the cant be real.Alas, this time through I was muchaware that I found all the characters one exception Terina much too slight and inconsequential Cedric, the pianist, Soubriquet, the journalist, and Lexxx, the eco warrior, had cameo appearances that did nothing to enliven our leaden protagonist Alfred Bosi.I was muchaware of the book s division into two parts, and found part two silly and unnecessary There s the tying up of loose ends with a hotch potch of ancillary characters.I did work out the identity of the second half narrator, and sometimes third party observer in Part 1 not something I ve seen or heard discussed elsewhere view spoiler on Bosi s attack in Mendicant Gardens the other pair of shoes were gleaming new. Bosi stared at them and wondered at their unseemly cleanliness 129 In Part 2 the narrator declares here among the trees, an unaccommodating world, unsuitable for highly polished shoes like mine So it was the narrator, now nicely ensconced in Bosi s new modern development, who was part of the attack on Bosi in Mendicant Gardens hide spoiler Despite the misleading description and bland art on its dust jacket, this is one of the better books I ve read this year Don t expect a thriller about a lost human tribe clashing with modern man and don t expect an activistic polemic on the plight of the poor Do expect a meditation on widowerhood, aging, and the culmination of a career in the arts As always with Crace, the approach is highly creative, allegorical and philosophical Meditative and Literary with capital M s and L s Sometimes his writing reminds me of Coetzee, but less didactic and much less focused on his own penis 4.5 stars. Harvest was originally to be Jim Crace s last novel but following its, at least to the author, unexpected success Booker shortlisted, winning the Dublin Literary Award , he decided to continue I was surprised by its success It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won two international awards Prize money is not for spending on a cruise or golf club membership It s supposed to pay forbooks, so the puritan in me said I owed the prizes a novel.The inspiration for Crace s novels comes from unexpected places the ideas for Harvest came at the Watford Gap, and he explains in detail on the publisher s website the origin of The Melody My novels are hardly autobiographical They tend to spring from something puzzling or troubling beyond my experience rather than from events in my own life So it was with The Melody About three years ago, I was on the tenth floor of a lavish hotel in Chennai, India, a guest of the Lit for Life Festival Everything was perfect except for one annoyance I couldn t sleep because of the ceaseless, metallic racket from the waste ground below my suite I looked down from the window on my first restless night to watch the hotel s garbage bins being toppled over and raided for food scraps by, mostly, feral dogs and a few other animals I couldn t, in that half light, put a name to A couple of them looked alarmingly like children I lay awake, disturbed in every sense, until the waiter brought my breakfast on a tray..That was the seed for the novel and it provided the question the narrative would hope to answer What occupies the space between the human mammals in their hotel rooms and those amongst the bins A realist, autobiographical writer, employing the pen as a camera, might have set the novel in 21st century Chennai I was wary of that..What I needed was a setting out of Asia and one which could not offend the citizens of any actual place That meant making up an unnamed nation of my own, something I am very fond of doing Minting a new world, rather than holding a mirror up to a real one, is a liberation I nearly always search for in my novels for the licence and the freedom it allows Anything can happen in the realms of make believe.So The Melody is set in a time long lost the late 1920s, say , on a coast unnamed by the Mediterranean, perhaps and in a town unbuilt, except within the pages of the novel The only part of Chennai that survives is the night time racket of the bins but in The Melody these discords are relocated to disturb the wealth and poverty of an invented place that I hope can stand for Nowadays and Anywhere.This quote brings out three key aspects of Crace s work1 His professed nature as a fabulist , an inventor of facts, in direct contrast to historic novelists The desire not to make the book too specific to an actual historic time or place is reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro s approach to The Buried Giant but Crace takes the approach further at micro level as well with his own invented flora, fauna and historic figures.As I said in my review of Being Dead, Crace s approach is a wonderful anecdote to the over researched Wikipedia regurgitation that bedevils many novels He himself has said and NB this was not meant as criticism of Mantel A while back Hilary Mantel the absolute gold standard for historical novelists issued some very sensible edicts about writing historical novels Number one was that if you include a fact then you should make sure it is true I m not interested in that at all I don t want facts, I want to make things up and to dig deep into traditional storytelling to produce a tale that illustrates the subject matter I care about.2 His avowed lack of directly autobiographical elements in his novels From the Paris ReviewIt s fascinating to make connections between the life and the writing That is interesting But what sinteresting is the way in which the life and the writing don t match, don t mirror each other It s the lack of correspondence that s really remarkable It s what makes me think that narrative s muchdeeply placed within us than just personal biography.3 The, sometimes unnoticed and usually quite subtle, but actually quite strong, political element to his works.It is hard not to see another motivation for this particular novel, even given his avowed lack of personal anecdote in the novels, given that its protagonist is an artist here a singer song writer nearing the end of his career and wondering whether it is worth continuing He teased a phrase that might reveal a melody, if he worked on it Would he find the energy to work on it He hadn t written anything worthwhile for a year and , so why continue nowHe was aware that whenever in the recent past he had announced in concert that the next song was a new one, there wasregret in the room than excited expectation.And in some respects Melody has elements of the singer who, to keep the long standing fans happy, inserts hooks from his old works into his new songs.Before the novel begins we have one of Crace s signature made up epigraphs a trick he had actually renounced some books ago on the grounds it was too successful accompanied here by invented acknowledgements, including one that delightfully breaks off mid sentence.And on page 2 it is welcome back to Craceland as we read He d drunk a littlethan usual, three or four sweet tots of Boulevard Liqueur, a woman s drink.The Melodyfrom previous novels and I suspect I have missed some books we have other appearances of this signature invented drink What is your favourite drink Boulevard Liqueur No rocks All That Follows Afterwards, fueled by the older children of the house who d serve them coffee or little cups of Boulevard Liqueur throughout the night, the neighbours and the relatives would reminisce about the dead, starting with the hearsay of the couple s final, bludgeoned breaths.Being Dead Buy one bottle of our Boulevard Liqueur and get a second free.The Devil s Larder He was in the advert for Boulevard Liqueur.SixAnd just to hammer home the point, The Melody also has the singer Alfred Busi writing a song about the drink Blue Chartreuse tourists coming to his home town often order it in bars only to be told it exists solely in Busi s song, or find themselves fobbed off with a fake concoction.Craceland fans will also be pleased to see quotes from Mondazy s Truisms, the reappearance of Dell Ova, a front door made from the hardest tarbony and Panache saloon cars and I m sure others I have missed.A crucial role in the story is played by 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, later described as a dark spreading mass of tarbonies and pepper oaks, tamarisks and pines, casuarinas and carob treesHere I wasn t clear if Crace was deliberately using the relatively uncommon English term bosk e.g used in Walter Scott s The Lord of the Isles , which seemsa small wood than anything similar to garrigue, or whether Crace had played his usual game of inventing a word only to hit on one that actually exists.So far I ve written a lot of words about Crace s approach, and my scorecard on Craceland bingo, but little about the novel itself Truth to tell, stripping those elements away, there isn t much to say There are some nice musings on ageing, such as when Busi has romantic stirrings for his sister in law, following the death of his wife Alicia It wasn t wanting her that was overwhelming and disturbing Busi, but wondering, just wondering about the possibilities, the distant and receding possibilities, the what might have been rather than thestirring and heroic what might be now or in the future In recent years, even before Alicia died, Busi had noticed his cravings slowly changing tense.But Crace s political agenda here is too heavy handed and cliched, there are one or two rather silly elements a part written on a typewritter without the letter o , a character called Lexxx , and the book loses its way completely in the second part, where the narrator reveals himself and becomes part of the story.A disappointing 2 stars as a stand alone work but 4 as part of Crace s impressive canon so 3 overall. I m convinced I really missed the boat on this one In fact there s a definitely cognitive dissonance between the intriguing premise and the dense lifeless book I read Did I not recognize the allegorical condemnation of xenophobia Did I not appreciate the meditation on grief and aging this novel was Did I not care for the supposed cleverness of it all Well, f ck, guess I did not Probably was too busy staying awake to get through the pages I wanted to like it, I was interested to try out the much lauded author, whose last book nearly got the prestigious Man Booker prize But this was just tedious Well written from a technical perspective, but unbearably dense, all narration, nary a line of dialogue, story of an aging crooner who was attacked by something someone, which sets his neighborhood agog That s about it, there s a bunch of characters I didn t really care about and a few events that elicited about the same amount of emotional investment In fact, the only thing gotten out of this entire reading experience was the definition of the word bosk, which is used very, very, very frequently Bosk is a thicket of bushes or a small wood Now you know Otherwise, this was just en entire disappointing read, albeit a relatively brief one Thanks Netgalley. Another intriguing, atmospheric and moving novel which justifies Crace s decision to abandon the retirement he announced at the time of Harvest Like many of his other books the setting of this one defies being pinned down all we really know is that it is set in a European city with an Atlantic coast, as all of the other clues seem to be entirely fictional Other details suggest that the setting is in the past, but again things seem deliberately slippery.The book is in two parts In the longer first part an anonymous narrator describes a disastrous week in the life of Alfred Busi Mister Al a recently widowed singer, pianist and songwriter who lives in a run down villa on a coast adjoining the bosk , a semi wild area of trees and shrubland He is attacked in his home by what he believes to be a naked feral child who has been raiding his larder His house is also being targeted by his nephew s property development scheme This section is very strong on both grief and the indignities of ageing.The second section takes place several years later and is narrated by a lodger in the new development that has replaced the villa, who has befriended Busi, allowing this section to end on aredemptive note. Although I ve only read a few of his books, Crace s last one, 2013 s Harvest , was my favorite to win that year s Booker Prize alas, it didn t , and I was saddened to learn he was planning to retire from writing and there would be no new Crace novels Lucky for us, he decided against that plan and we now have his lovely, elegiac twelfth novel something akin to Shakespeare s The Tempest in that it both recapitulates and sums up much of what had gone before, through the wise eyes of an elderly man coming to grips with mortality The story is rather simple it details a few days in the life of an unnamed town s celebrated citizen, one Alfred Busi, a renowned singer who is to be given a statue commemorating his career in the Avenue of Fame, with an accompanying farewell concert The day before he is to be honored, he is attacked in his kitchen larder, by what he insists might be a feral child living in the bosk , a forested wilderness adjoining the town He also learns his nefarious nephew is planning to knock down Busi s lifelong residence in favor of luxury condos Busi s adjustment to these two encumbrances is Crace s contemplative means of addressing many of society s current ills in the post Brexit Trump universe Hopefully there will be additional entries to the Crace canon but if not, he has certainly left us with one of the crowning achievements of his own illustrious career My sincere thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for providing me with an ARC of this book a full 7 months prior to publication, in exchange for this honest review.
James Jim Crace is an award winning English writer His novel Quarantine, won the Whitbread Novel award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize Harvest won the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.Crace grew up in Forty Hill, an area at the far northern point of Greater London, close to Enfield where Cr
- 224 pages
- The Melody
- Jim Crace
- 06 July 2018 Jim Crace