Alfred Busi, famed in his town for his music and songs, is mourning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days in the large villa he has always called home. Then one night Busi is attacked by a creature he disturbs as it raids the contents of his larder. Busi is convinced that what assaulted him was no animal, but a child, ‘innocent and wild’, and his words fan the flames of old rumour – of an ancient race of people living in the bosk surrounding the town – and new controversy: the town’s paupers, the feral wastrels at its edges, must be dealt with. Once and for all.
Lyrical and warm, intimate and epic, The Melody by Jim Crace tracks the few days that will see Busi and the town he loves altered irrevocably. This is a story about grief and ageing, about reputation and the loss of it, about love and music and the peculiar way myth seeps into real life. And it is a political novel too – a rallying cry to protect those we persecute.
Alfred Busi also known as mister Al, as the story unravels be called by other names, as his integrity comes under attack in an article in a newspaper, after he himself becomes physical attacked of the indescribable kind, an animal or a destitute boy? Used to be a thriving singer and pianist in youth in this tale of a coastal town of no known name but in a time possibly before 1930’s and he’s getting old, a show here and there, but time will tell and as the story unravels, and he is still to set aside his wife that lays in ashes, he is to be up against many challenges and changes and just how he takes them on has you in the tale, the town, the somewhat cleansing of it, and the moving forward progression of one kind and singling out of another.
The main protagonist Busi, of whom has a few battles of the heart, of loss, safety, of losing home, and dignity, wife gone he has his sister in-law on his tail, and his nephew has him caught in a dilemma.
For those that care for some lucid prose to read with some simplicity and great characterisation, a kind of denizens of a town study that just serve up some pleasant easy reading in old storytelling sequence in a kind of Dickens and Balzac strain.
“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 neighbors’ sleep with gunshot, let alone harm anything.”
“There were lines that he could never cross, he liked to think. He was not that kind of widower. He was not that kind of fool. In songs, of course, he’d crossed that line a hundred times. He’d sung of lovers and of passion: “Psst, psst, please spare an hour of my time” and “Tarry, tarry; tarry, go.” His lyrics spoke of longings, ardors, and desires, all acted on. Offstage, though, his life was unadventurous. Loyal might be the kinder word. Busi was not in general an obsessive man but he was immersive: that’s to say, his loyalties ran deep. Betraying them would be against his nature, and maybe against Nature itself. Yet, he smiled and nodded his approval as Terina brushed down her clothes in her affecting way, and still he felt the stirring of his blood. He could allow himself the fantasy of having once been younger in her younger arms.”
“Is there something, anything? That was a phrase he’d heard from her before. An awkward phrase, he always thought. A tease. Was it a calculated provocation now, a veiled invitation? Busi wasn’t sure—except he had always suspected everything that Terina did or said was a provocation, calculated or not. She did not speak, or sit or rise, or leave a room, or join a group, or depart, without the evident desire to create a stir. So, was there something, anything? What could she have in mind? What was she hoping for? The woman was a mystery.”
“That would be the writer’s thesis. Still hot air, perhaps, and waffle. But now he had the anchor that the essay and his editor required. Alfred Busi, Mister Al, could, with a few tucks and a little wipe of oil, be the symbol of a city fearful of attack. What better illustration could there be than all those wounds and bandages? How perfect too that there were medals and a baggy suit.”
“. . . although, as Joseph had often said, sounding like his father, “Money is the tune that everybody whistles to.”
“There was nothing he should fear, or nothing worse anyway than what had already happened in the week. He opened up the larder too, and as he walked away, grimly happy with himself, he swung the chain of Persian bells, still hanging from the hinges and the latch, and listened to the melody that no one wrote, the song that had no words, the water that was waiting for its stone.”
“Some melodies are never meant to find their words,” he says. It is the saddest phrase.”
“Who knows? Our town will never be the same again, though it is hard for anyone to say if this is for the better or the worse. Each gain is paid for with a loss.”
“The hawks are flat-winged this morning, biding their time high above Buttress Hill. We crane our necks to watch, but nothing can diminish their remoteness or reduce their deep indifference to us. They are aloof and neither friend nor foe, but unforthcoming, and uninvolved. A hawk is not a joyful sight. Then we are blessed, befriended even. Swifts descend. A rare event. They have been brought close to the ground by the flies and bugs we have disturbed with our scuffing and our car. They are, indeed, as close as gnats, nearer to our heads as any bat or starling would ever dare to come. All too briefly, we are bombarded by their every duck and dive, their yachting wings, their eerie and falsetto screams, but, in moments, they have taken what they can and are aloft again, higher than the hawks, mere specks. Yet they have lifted us and blessed our outing. They are a thrilling bird. They bring good fortune, it is said. We feel a little sanctified by them and full of hope. Mr. Busi’s birthday trip is starting on a cheery note.”