Sunday, May 4, 2014
Angel's Harp: An Extract
I don't do this often, but I thought I would present today an extract from my novel Angel's Harp. I describe this as a novel in four movements. I hope you enjoy this tiny taste.
There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.
Birth or Death? There was Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
– T. S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi
It was an indulgence, perhaps. A scattering to the wind of money he might well have dispensed more wisely. But it had evolved into far more than a holiday. It had become a kind of pilgrimage, a journey into healing. Or so he hoped. He might almost be able to believe in something again. In what wasn’t yet clear. In humanity? In God? In himself?
He had seen all that he had hoped to see, and more. Stonehenge at dawn on the summer solstice, listening to Sonnenaufgang from Also Sprach Zarathustra. The Starry Night in Amsterdam, in the Van Gogh Museum, when by sheer chance it happened to be on loan from New York for a few months. Holbein’s dead, so very dead, Christ at the Kunstmuseum in Basel. The magnificent Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica. This and much, much more. And so it was that he arrived at last in Florence, the final leg of his trip before returning to Rome and flying from Fiumicino back to Australia. Already, that morning, he had stood in awe before Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in the Uffizi. Now, the Accademia.
He had not expected it, turning the corner. Of course he had expected to see the statue, the magnificent David, but he had not expected this. Even from this distance, before it loomed above him, before he saw the echoes of light on the smooth marble curves. Before he became aware of the oddly small penis and the too-large head. Even from back here, seeing it framed by the narrowing perspective of the gallery walls, he felt the tug, the gut-wrenching tug. An enormous hand, perhaps the statue’s own overlarge hand, had seized his sinews and begun to pluck, to pluck a melody in which beauty and pain were one. It terrified him. Each vibration killed him, brought him to life, and killed him again. Life and death were just two halves of the same oscillation.
When Alan Carter finally boarded the flight back to Australia, he was hopeful—not certain, but hopeful—that he was again in the lifeward phase of the oscillation. Except that it was no longer quite so easy to tell them apart, life and death.
From the first, as a child, Alan had believed in everything. Unicorns, fairies, goblins, Martians, wizards, ghosts, daleks, platypuses. Six-legged fire-breathing giraffes. Why not? He would draw one if you asked him to.
The house in Dauntsey Rd., his kingdom, had been Alan’s home for as long as he could remember, although he was born in a rented apartment in the western suburbs, while his parents were trying to save a deposit for a house. He was born on the fourth of October, 1957, the same day, his father later told him, that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1.
‘We’ll be living on Mars by the time you’re all grown up,’ his father was fond of saying.
Not long after his birth, his parents had bought this house, a little closer to the city. His father generally preferred to work an afternoon shift at the factory, starting around three in the afternoon. When Alan was around two and a half years old his mother returned to work, covering mornings as a receptionist at a local medical practice. So Alan himself was brought up in shifts, belonging in the mornings to his father, and in the afternoons and evenings to his mother. Each shaped the world for him in their own fashion. They overlapped for an hour or two around lunchtime, and generally on weekends, unless his father worked overtime. He had no brothers or sisters with whom to compete for attention.
Alan had a large back garden in which to play out his life, a space over which he gradually established dominion during the years, giving to each corner and each feature a particular significance. In the mornings his father would often work a vegetable patch that occupied the upper left hand corner, on raised beds. Depending on the time of year, there would be corn, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, and occasionally something a little more exotic, such as artichokes or bok choy, pushing up through the soil. Alan eagerly awaited the emergence of beanstalks, but none, so far, had lived up to his expectations. As he grew older, his father would encourage him to take responsibility for a particular vegetable.
‘You look after these peas, Son,’ he might say. And together they would dig the furrows and push in the seeds. Alan would check them daily, and his mother or father, whosever shift it was at the time, would patiently allow themselves to be led by the hand to witness the first shoots pushing through the soil, and often every shoot that followed. They would make a celebration of the first harvest, shelling the peas together and making them part of a special meal, a Sunday roast lunch, perhaps—those that survived the shelling process without being eaten, that is.
Other parts of the garden were Alan’s private domain. The large rainwater tank served sometimes as a fortress that he defended valiantly, sometimes as a rocketship that he rode bravely to the moon. The clump of fruit trees in the corner, apricot, peach, almond, became a magical woodland where adventures were played out with his friends. His story book friends, that is. Sometimes he would be Robin Hood, but occasionally he preferred the role of Little John. Sometimes it was Peter Pan who climbed, ever so bravely, into the lower branches. Tinker Bell would flitter in and out of the foliage as the sun caught the surface of the shivering leaves. At other times he would be Bilbo Baggins hiding from the goblins that were always just out of sight behind one of the other trees. His world was peopled with an assortment of potential allies or enemies.
These creatures came to inhabit his garden thanks to his mother and father, who would read to him before bed every night, and who gradually taught him to recognise the words for himself. Or they would make up stories of their own. He particularly enjoyed the weekends, when his father would bring the characters to life with his range of voices, sometimes declaiming with extravagant gestures as he strode up and down the room. Long after he could read himself, he continued to enjoy these performances.
He often shared the garden with his other main friends, the family cat, Trisha and the family dog, Shep. These friends went through various incarnations over the years, but always bore the same names. In his earliest memories, Trisha was a ginger and Shep a border collie. He wrote roles for them in his adventures, roles they sometimes, reluctantly, agreed to play. When they diverged from the script he would rewrite it around them. The world was nothing if not malleable.
Until his school days, his physical world was largely delineated by that tall, grey wooden fence, bordering the garden on three sides. There were gaps between the flat wooden planks, through which he would glimpse other worlds, some of which he longed to enter, some of which he feared. The world on the left hand side was inhabited by a man and a woman, older than his parents, and therefore ancient, who spoke with a funny accent. He would sometimes spy on the man working in his vegetable patch, but then run away quickly, heart pounding, for fear of being seen. The world at the back of the garden was the domain of a whole tribe of people who worked all the time on the stripped down carcasses of cars. From there would emanate sounds of music and shouting and laughter, and sometimes the roar of resurrected engines. The precise composition of this tribe seemed quite fluid, although Alan could rarely identify individual faces. Sometimes they became the goblins from which it was necessary to flee.
On the right hand side he glimpsed something entirely different. It looked to him like a wild world, a jungle, and he would sometimes think that strange animals were crawling through the undergrowth towards him. One of these strange creatures, it turned out, was Melanie.
If you enjoyed this, why not consider buying a copy. Click on the book cover and this will take you to a page with information about where to purchase a print copy or an eBook.