The Melody by Jim Crace
It was always going to be a tough act for Jim Crace to follow. I’d only just finished reading the astonishing Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, when I picked up The Melody to review. But of course, considering that Jim Crace is also a Man Booker Prize-shortlister, I felt confident that he wouldn’t let me down. And, fortunately, he didn’t.
The Melody is the story of what happens when Alfred Busi – famed singer and ageing local icon – is attacked one night in his own home by a creature that he is convinced is not an animal but a child, ‘wild and innocent’.
Rumours of an ancient race of people living in the bosk surrounding his town have bubbled away for years, but news of the attack on Busi raises the hackles of the township and the decision is made to ‘move on’ the homeless who live on the town’s fringes. However, while much is being made of civic safety as a reason for moving the ‘feral wastrels’ on, it turns out that some in the town have less concern for civic safety, and more of an eye on the prize of real-estate values.
Busi’s architect nephew wants to buy his uncle’s charming but rundown home and redevelop it into a block of upmarket apartments. And given that Busi’s house backs onto the bosk, it’s in his nephew’s best interests to spearhead a campaign to get rid of the homeless. While Busi is determined not to sell, the pressure is mounting for him to sign the papers and be ‘moved on’ himself.
This is a book about the loneliness that can come with growing old, and how a chance encounter with one of society’s forgotten people will help one elderly gentleman reconnect with the world, a place that he finds puzzling and too fast-moving. This is a gentle read that slows the pulse and warms the heart.