A few years ago Jim Crace came over to Malta to give a talk and I’m sure that influenced his latest novel, The Melody, for there are elements, the most glaring one is a newspaper the main protagonist is reading which is published in Malta’s capital city, Valletta.
Jim Crace’s previous novel, Harvest was a masterpiece so I had many expectations for The Melody. Will it be better? or will it be a big disappointment? As such it’s a strong novel but it doesn’t top Harvest.
The book focuses on Alfred Busi, a musician who is attacked by a creature. Busi thinks it is a feral boy who emerged from the forest near his house, which he has lived in since childhood. The reason is that when he was a boy, Busi believed that there a group of people lived in the forest. Eventually he finds out that both his childhood home and the forest will be destroyed by his nephew. The second half of the novel deals with a septuagenarian Busi dictating this incident to his flatmate.
The melody is a complex novel as it tackles the effect of memory on a person. Busi believes that the fables of his youth are still a reality and spends a lot of time trying to prove that people do exist in the forest. Then Crace includes a lot of subplots and then the attack becomes a maguffin.
In reality The Melody doubles up as an ecological tale as Busi’s nephew believes that the forest and old houses half to be destroyed but when his plan goes through and few years later nature starts to infiltrate the buildings and the narrator encounters evidence of a human creature as well, which means that nature cannot be suppressed (a theme explored in Crace’s early novel Arcadia, linked below).
The melody also is a satire on the media as one of the main protagonists is a power hungry journalist, who manipulated Busi’s story for a magazine and both parties pay for the repercussions involved.
Last of all The Melody is about love, Busi is a widower but also has feelings for his wife’s sister. Throughout the book his attitude towards her shifts from infatuation, to suspicion, dislike, forgiveness and then love. Like the nature theme Busi’s love for Terina is cyclical.
The Melody is a rich novel with its themes being thrown at you at every page but this is also one of the reasons why I couldn’t gravitate to this book: there was too much going on and it feels overstuffed at times and even a bit random but one cannot say that this is an uninteresting novel, one just has to be alert for sudden changes in the plot.
If this is going to be Crace’s last novel (Harvest was supposed to be) then he is still going out in style. The Melody is not a career high but it is a good novel that is proof that Crace has not lost his magic to tell an offbeat tale.
Here’s my review of Arcadia
Thanks to Picador for sending a copy of The Melody in exchange for an honest review.