cover image The Melody

The Melody

Jim Crace. Doubleday/Talese, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-54371-2

This haunting and transfixing novel by the British author of Being Dead and Quarantine is set in a world just parallel to our own, somewhere on the edge of a nameless sea. Widowed Alfred Busi, semiretired from a career as a world-famous musician, lives a quiet life in a villa until one night, after going outside to straighten up some tipped-over garbage cans, he is bitten on the throat and face by something “fierce and dangerous” that smells like potato peel. Busi’s wounds, as well as those he sustains in a mugging the following day, raise questions and fears in the minds of the townspeople. Was he attacked by one of the fierce animals who live in the forest just outside the town’s boundaries? Or by one of the homeless people who took up residence in a park? Or possibly, as an inventive journalist suggests, by a Neanderthal? In any case, the town, led by Busi’s mendacious housing developer nephew Joseph, begins to takes steps towards ridding itself of any unsettling influences, evicting the homeless from the park where they normally sleep and where Busi was mugged. The novel, which is narrated by one of the town’s nosy residents, takes place almost entirely during a few days, with a coda that indicates the repercussions several years later. Like the simple but subtle song from which the novel takes its title, the novel’s effects linger, coloring the reader’s feelings about the thin border between the natural world and human society. (June)