The Road to London (novel excerpt)

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An excerpt from the novel The Road to London, described by professional reviewers as "hallucinogenic", "next level literature", "profoundly original", "some of the best writing of our times" and "a modern-day classic".

The Road to London

 

The Garden and the Key

 

Thus talking, hand in hand alone they passed

On to their blissful bower; it was a place

Chosen by sovereign planter, when he framed

All things to man’s delightful use; the roof

Of thickest covert was inwoven shade,

Laurel and myrtle, and what higher grew

On firm and fragrant leaf; on either side

Acanthus and each odorous bushy shrub

Fenced the verdant wall.

Thus said unanimous, and other rites

Observing none, but adoration pure,

Which God likes best, into their inmost bower

Handed they went; and, eased the putting off

These troublesome disguises which we wear,

Straight side by side were laid; nor turned, I ween,

Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites

Mysterious of connubial love refused:[i]

 

I met Leo once after the summer holiday. Then autumn came; its chilly northern winds swept away the colours of summer, leaving an empty sky. School had started again, Pablo, Daniel, Sam and I were still seeing each other for the usual cocktails of booze, weed and seventies music. Pat and I were on speaking terms again. Since that day we’d bumped into each other, we had started speaking, we went for a pint together a few times and I had met his new friends, though I didn’t become close to them. He was now hanging out with a crowd of wealthy bohemian would-be artists and musicians; he’d become a regular at the most fashionable places in Milan, on the Navigli, in Via Magenta and Brera. There was a sea of differences now in our lives and what had happened between us became taboo: no mention or allusion to it ever again passed between us: we’d said sorry to each other; it was all we needed. Our lives had parted, yes, but in parting we stayed together. A word, a look, a smile were enough to cross that sea of differences; a word, a look, a smile was all we needed to know we loved each other still and forever. It was our last year at secondary and we were both to go to university together: he would read classics, I medieval studies.

The weather allowed us to sit on the pavement. Pat and I were having a pint outside a bar in Brera. We’d been talking, as we had of late so often done, about Joyce, by then my favourite novelist. Milan suffered from the same disease as Dublin: paralysis. You could see it painted on people’s faces: an army of grey clones each staring at their feet. A provincial metropolis whose Renaissance spirit lay under the ashes of industrialisation. A shithole.

‘So, Pat, tell me, what are you going to do after uni?’

‘I don’t know exactly. What can you do with Latin?’

‘Work in publishing? Teach?’

‘Never been one for teaching. You?’

‘I’ll leave Milan, I’ll go to London.’

‘To do what?’

‘To teach English.’

‘Like Joyce.’

‘Come home Joyce sort of thing.’

‘You’re a nutter!’

‘So was Joyce!’

‘That’s why you’ll make it.’

‘Not sure about that.’

‘You’ll make it and…’

Pat went silent. He looked into the distance, in his dark eyes a bright glint: the missing stars in the black Milanese sky.

‘Remember…’ his voice was deep, ‘remember, whatever happens – whoever you go with, they’re just borrowing you from me. You’re mine forever.’

Immense skies and immense prairies, where my melancholy runs sweet.[ii] Time has stopped. The Sun is still. All around me is light and air. I’m lying down on the grass: emerald blades cut the empty sky. There’s nothing above me but light. Soft beneath me, the earth is warm, motherly. The birds have stopped singing in adoration pure. There’s nothing to wait for, not even dawn, nothing ahead. I stand up; I am light. The horizon’s clear. Nothing between me and him, nothing beyond him. I can see now, I can see what I couldn’t see before. I can see the loss of land is the gain of sky. Limegreen turns, and, for a moment, is aquamarine. That is the moment. That is the budding. End meets end, and it’s a new beginning. Petals peek and hide, wink at me and shy away. They’re spots, they’re hues, each with its own moment. Dotted in the grass they meet the sky and for a second change their shades. I am light. I run, I run to meet the horizon. I run to meet the sky, I run, I run and I am free.

[...]

It was a lovely night, my Dear. The music was so bright. I met you at the green pub; we had a few drinks. You were in good spirits. I like you when you’re happy. You kept popping up and disappearing. You played pool. I watched you lose and lose again. But you won. In the end, you won much more than a game of pool that night. Your eyes were radiant, wide, like cornflowers in the Sun they pierced my soul, and I changed hue. Time will pass; the world will change. Pain will follow bliss; we’ll be distant one day. One day, the world will come between us. But this moment was forever, beyond time, beyond the horizon, the blue of your eyes will meet the green of mine, and kiss, and change hue. For a moment, for a moment. And when my eyes will close forever, your blue will be with them.

We left the club, went to the cash point. The air was still, the music gone. We walked through time; we strolled against time. We had a chat with Joe outside the club. He had a sweet smile. You ran, free, you ran to the petrol station. The machine got stuck. We always get it stuck. On the way back, your voice was soft, you whispered, slow, to me, words I did not understand. Yet I didn’t need to. What they said, I didn’t understand: I don’t care what the world says. We stopped. You picked up a daffodil for me.


[i]John Milton, 1667, Paradise Lost, Book IV, ll.689-697 and ll.636-674.

[ii] Lucio Battisti, ‘I Giardini Di Marzo’, 1972.

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