On Reading Jim Crace's The Melody

06 February 2018

Picador Senior Commissioning Editor Sophie Jonathan introduces The Melody, the new novel by Jim Crace, which publishes in hardback and ebook on 8th February. 

I feel enormously privileged to be writing about The Melody by Jim Crace, because this is a book that wasn’t meant to be written. Back in 2013, after the publication of the Man Booker-shortlisted Harvest, Jim Crace broke hearts across the literary world by announcing that it would be his last novel. So I was delighted when, in 2016, Jim realized he wasn’t quite finished with fiction. I have read this new novel many time since I received those first sixty pages, and am bowled over every time: in The Melody Jim has produced an exquisite, surprising and utterly brilliant new novel.

The Melody tells the story of widower Alfred Busi, famed in his town for his music and songs, now in his sixties, quietly living out his days alone 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 the thing that attacked him was no animal, but a child, ‘innocent and wild’, and his assertion fuels old rumours – 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.

The Melody is written in that famous loping, lilting rhythm of Jim’s, and there is an exquisite sense of the surreal pervading this novel. Even as it is a poignant story about grief and ageing, music and love, reputation and the loss of it, it is also a book that explores the peculiar way myth seeps into reality, and that imbues the novel with a dark, shifting unease. There is a creeping quality to parts of The Melody, a sense that the creatures that haunt our dreams, that sprang from our childhood imaginations, might be lingering just beyond our sight. That’s certainly something that influenced Mel Four’s stunning jacket design for The Melody, which has an inky quality, and on the back the just-visible limbs of trees in a tangled forest. Alfred Busi’s beloved string of bells – their melody so reminiscent of his wife – is picked out in gold on the front cover.

Like many of Jim’s other novels, The Melody also has a political heart. It is a rallying cry to protect those we persecute, and a condemnation of the modern world’s relentless othering of the less fortunate. It feels powerful for that, and yet this is also a novel of great humour, populated by characters I have both laughed at and loved.

The Melody is published on Thursday 8th February. I can’t tell you how beautiful it is, and hope that I might have persuaded you to open its pages and find out for yourself.

 

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