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Six (2003) / The Pesthouse (2007) / All That Follows (2010) / Harvest (2013)
On the occasion of the paperback publication Jim Crace will be appearing at:
Hall Green Library, Birmingham
Please telephone 0121 303 2895 for details
Shenstone Library, 7.15pm
An evening of discussion about the writing career and personal reading interests of Jim Crace, including a reading from All That Follows and a question and answer session.
Nottingham Central Library
A reading followed by discussion and book-signing.
ALL THAT FOLLOWS
The hair is unmistakable: old-fashioned, Russian hair, swept back from the forehead, thickly and unusually abundant. Leonard stands on the rug a metre from the television screen to see more closely. The video footage is grainy and unsteady, purposefully amateur. The man reading the prepared statement in the curtained room does not mean to be recognized. Indeed, he has masked his face to the bridge of the nose with what appears to be a child’s scarf. His voice, crudely distorted on the sound track, is childlike too. He wears sunglasses, defiantly unfashionable E-clips, ten years old at least. The light beam from the camera is lasered at his chest and the lower half of his scarf, so that what little of the face can be seen – the ears, the eyebrows and the forehead – is under lit and ghostly. But still the hair is unmistakable.
Leonard sits. He stands to find the remote console. Sits again. He is breathless and it is with a shaking hand
that he clicks open an on-screen toolbar, pastes a password, enters ‘Personal
Briefcase’, selects ‘Menu’, ‘Archive’, ‘Album’, ‘Austin’ and waits for the file
of photographs to download. A hundred or so chattering thumbnails peel out of
the icon and tile across the desktop. It is easy to spot the group of images he
wants. They are indoor shots, flash bright, and the
only ones without an intense sapphire sky. Those days in
On the left, photographed without much care or interest eighteen years previously by the girl who cleared tables at Gruber’s, is Maxie, the big-smiled American son of Russian immigrants. That much is certain. His black moustache and beard were sparse and adolescent in those days. His hair, long on top, parted slightly to the right, was swept back over his ears, with just a few loose strands. He looked like the teenage Stalin in that famous early photograph that became the poster for the biopic in the early twenty-twenties, Young Steel, unfeasibly handsome and intense. And on the right, snatched from the newscast, is the masked man, guarding his identity and filmed by whom? A comrade, colleague, accomplice? Neither of the images is well defined – a frozen, hazy video clip and an over-expanded photo detail, a mosaic of pixels. The evidence is blurry at best. But Leonard is convinced. These two images, separated by almost eighteen years, are of the same man: the same swept-tundra look, the same wind-sculpted brow, the same off-centre widow’s peak. No sign of balding yet, or grey. It’s Maxie, then. Maxie Lermon. Maxim Lermontov. On active service, evidently. His head at least has aged extremely well. His head has aged much better than Leonard’s own. Leonard’s is grey, a little prematurely. His hair is not abundant. As (almost) ever, Maxie has the edge on him.
Now Francine has come home. He hears her keys, the two sentinel notes of the house alarm, the impact of her bags on the hall floor, the clatter of her shoes, the squeak and whine of the lavatory door and the air extractor. He listens while she urinates, flushes, rinses her hands, squeaks the door once more. Should he say anything about his disquieting discovery, he wonders, deciding no. But her not kissing him when she comes into the room, her not even pretending a smile, and him so disappointed seeing her so pretty, makes him speak.
‘See this,’ he says.
Again he banks the images and places Maxie-masked and Maxie-young next to each other on the screen. ‘What do you think? Are they the same man?’
‘Probably.’ She chin-tucks. Her Chinese teacup face, he calls it. The corners of her mouth are down. It means she is impatient, wants to get to bed. ‘Who is he, anyway?’
‘This is the one’ – he points – ‘who’s got those hostages. You
haven’t seen the news?’ She doesn’t even shake her head. What does he think a
teacher does all day? ‘This one . . . well, he’s someone I used to know. In
‘You eating meat?’
‘Boy. I should say. What is that place, an abattoir?’
Maxie is still talking to the camera, though now that Francine has gone upstairs to bed the telescreen is muted to a whisper. He is repeating his demands and suggesting a way – some government concessions, some troop withdrawals, safe transit to an airport, a flight to somewhere he won’t specify – for ‘finishing this without mishap’, a word so much more menacing than bloodshed, say, or death, especially when spoken behind a mask and dark glasses, especially when deliberately mispronounced and with the slightly comic Yiddish inflection that Maxie is using to disguise his voice. Leonard shapes his hands ten centimetres from his stomach, miming his saxophone, and blows a pair of notes, three times, at the screen: Misch-app. Misch-app. Blood-sched.
The same reporter, accumulating coats and scarves as the evening gets chillier, updates every half an hour, standing in the street fifty metres from the house of hostages. The ‘suspects’, who have taken refuge ‘randomly’ when fleeing through the gardens after what the police are calling ‘a bungled incident’, have at least one handgun that has already been ‘discharged at officers’. They might have more, she says. The broadcast helicopter shows a suburb darkening, the whirring siren lights of police, ambulance and fire brigade, and the orange glow of curtained houses. The garden trees and sheds and greenhouses become more formless as the night wears on. The hostages – no details for the moment – are being babysat by Maxie Lermon, as yet unrecognized, as yet unnamed.
Leonard flattens the futon and fetches the guest duvet from the cupboard. He will not go upstairs tonight. Francine will already be asleep. Any noise he might, he’s bound to, make (he’s a slightly lumbering left-hander) will irritate her: the light switches, the bathroom taps, the floorboards and the mattress, the intricate percussion of getting into bed in a modern wooden house with its muttering, living materials. She needs more sleep than he does because she’s never quite asleep. She’s waiting for the phone to go, waiting to be woken by the phone, dreaming of it so persuasively that many times she has sat up abruptly in bed and reached out for the handset in an almost silent room. She lifts it, even, and only hears the dialling tone and her own somersaulting heart.
Leonard could pick up the telephone at any time to offer information to the police. He knows he should. Identify the unidentified. Supply a name. Provide intelligence. But it is already late already and Leonard is still trembling. It has been a tense and shocking day, and he is too tired and troubled for anything except retreat. It has gone . Everybody will be sleeping now or trying to. The police, the comrades, the hostages. Leonard will be sleeping soon, still dressed, on his futon, so frequently his bed these days, the television flickering, Francine unreachable upstairs. Tomorrow he should phone. He will phone. He will never phone. He does his best to sleep.
© Jim Crace 2009
Reviews of Jim Crace’s 2010 novel All That Follows
“Thought-provoking and a delight to read”
Reviewing All That Follows in The Guardian,
fellow novelist Giles Foden found the novel’s “modesty” attractive: “the way it gets big ideas down to a small
on which individual emotions and family dynamics are authentically realised. This, the novel seems to be saying, is where politics matters...” Foden wonders if the novel is trying to offer
“the new language for space-time called for by [jazz pianist and Crace mentor] Roy Fisher...an evocation of being, location and history that takes into account the lessons of modernism and relativity...ideally producing in one person the sort of flexible consciousness that might properly confront wider effects such as climate change...No novelist today could have chosen a more original way of confronting this challenge, and plenty are trying...The writing about music is matchless”, Foden says, but Crace is “not unaware that the proposition that jazz can save the world
is itself subject to satire” and “brings a rare humour” to this story of a political re-awakening. Read Giles Foden’s review on The Guardian website
“A magician among contemporary British novelists”
“Crace shows real edge and distinction in his
writing,” says Ian Thomson in the Financial
Times (12 April). The protagonist of All
That Follows, Lennie,
“is emblematic of bourgeois English liberalism. Though outwardly leftist in his politics, he is too polite and hesitant to be readily militant on the streets, yet craves action
and a clarion-call to arms. One evening, unexpectedly, he finds it while watching the news on television...” Thomson praises the new novel “both for its mesmeric story-telling
and the matchless quality of its prose...Crace’s is a unique voice.” Please visit ft.com to read the entire review
“A novel about the political life itself”
Edmund Gordon in the Times Literary
Supplement (16 April) sees “a fundamental change of approach” in the new
novel, which engages more directly than Crace’s
with politics and the “cost of living with political principles”. While unsure of Crace’s “grasp of realist technique”, Gordon concludes that the novel succeeds in “its portrayal of a successful artist who doubts the significance of a life devoted to art...[the conflict] between the daring of Leonard’s music and the timidity of his beliefs...is handled with subtlety...This least characteristic [of Crace’s books] may also be his most revealing.”