Melody” by Jim Crace; Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (224
blush, “The Melody” by Jim Crace is a simple,
bittersweet tale of an aging crooner nearing the end of
his illustrious career.
the time you’re a few pages into this slim volume, you
realize it’s more than a simple tale — it’s a
haunting story of love and loss, empathy and inequity
and the galvanizing power of memory, hunger and fear,
“the timeless, universal fear of anyone less lucky
it’s an easy read, it isn’t a book you’ll easily
meet Alfred Busi (affectionately known as Mister Al),
he’s only occasionally singing his classics in small
venues in the unnamed Mediterranean town where he’s
lived all his life.
eve of what is likely his last big concert, he’s
attacked in his home. By what, it isn’t clear — not
to his elegant but frosty sister-in-law, who tends to
him in the middle of the night, not to the craven
reporter looking for a headline-grabbing story, not even
to Mister Al himself.
to believe his attacker is a half-wild human boy, one of
an ancient race of humans or one of the many, many poor
who inhabit the parks on the wild margins of the town.
And while the attack upends Mister Al’s fragile
existence, he somehow feels a connection to his
attacker, whom he understands, quite rightly, is as
threatened as Mister Al himself.
the attack, Mister Al was unmoored by the loss of his
beloved wife. After, it’s clear he’s also threatened
by something more than a midnight intruder: change.
greedy nephew is pressing Mister Al to sell his seaside
villa, which would give way to a massive apartment
building. (From which said nephew would profit, of
course.) The upstanding citizens of the town are
becoming increasingly angered by its poor. And Mister Al
is struggling against deep-seated regrets about his past
and doubts about his future.
that Crace’s writing — so skillful, so subtle —
and the breezy-seeming book becomes layered with meaning
and laced with mystery.
“The Melody” leaves you with more questions than
answers. What was Mister Al attacked by? Who is the
unnamed narrator? It also forces you to grapple with
your own sense of right and wrong. How should we treat
the homeless? The elderly? The poor? Is so-called
progress good or bad? And what, finally, is the
difference between animals and humans, whom Crace calls
“the animals that dream”?
answers can’t be found in the book itself, which will
linger in your mind, like a song you can’t get out of
your head. A song with a tune you clearly remember, that
you can hum to yourself — but you can never quite
remember the words.