[Here are some “screen shots” from this novel, beginning with the first paragraph…]
For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point. Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya. He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe, slides into bed beside him. ‘Have you missed me?’ she asks. ‘I miss you all the time,’ he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.
* * *
‘We want to give you an opportunity to state your position.’
‘I have stated my position. I am guilty.’
‘Guilty of what?’
‘Of all that I am charged with.’
‘You are taking us in circles, Professor Lurie.’
‘Of everything Ms Isaacs avers, and of keeping false records.’
Now Farodia Rassool intervenes. ‘You say you accept Ms Isaacs’s statement, Professor Lurie, but have you actually read it?’
‘I do not wish to read Ms Isaacs’s statement. I accept it. I know of no reason why Ms Isaacs should lie.’
‘But would it not be prudent to actually read the statement before accepting it?’
‘No. There are more important things in life than being prudent.’
Farodia Rassool sits back in her seat. ‘This is all very quixotic, Professor Lurie, but can you afford it? It seems to me we may have a duty to protect you from yourself.’ She gives Hakim a wintry smile.
‘You say you have not sought legal advice. Have you consulted anyone — a priest, for instance, or a counselor? Would you be prepared to undergo counselling?’
The question comes from the young woman from the Business School. He can feel himself bristling. ‘No, I have not sought counseling nor do I intend to seek it. I am a grown man. I am not receptive to being counselled. I am beyond the reach of counselling.’
* * *
He tries to wash off the ash under the kitchen tap, pouring glass after glass of water over his head. Water trickles down his back; he begins to shiver with cold.
It happens every day, every hour, every minute, he tells himself, in every quarter of the country. Count yourself lucky to have escaped with your life. Count yourself lucky not to be a prisoner in the car at this moment, speeding away, or at the bottom of a donga with a bullet in your head. Count Lucy lucky too. Above all Lucy.
A risk to own anything: a car, a pair of shoes, a packet of cigarettes. Not enough to go around, not enough cars, shoes, cigarettes. Too many people, to few things. What there is must go into circulation, so that everyone can have a chance to be happy for a day. That is the theory; hold to the theory and to the comforts of theory. Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant. That is how one must see life in this country; in its schematic aspect. Otherwise one could go mad. Cars, shoes; women too. There must be some niche in the system for women and what happens to them.
* * *
Just something to dabble at, he had said to Rosalind. A lie. The opera is not a hobby, not any more. It consumes him night and day.
Yet despite occasional good moments, the truth is that Byron in Italy is going nowhere. There is no action, no development, just a long, halting cantalina hurled by Teresa into the empty air, punctuated now and then by groans and sighs from Byron offstage. The husband and the rival mistress are forgotten, might as well not exist. The lyric impulse in him might not be dead, but after decades of starvation it can crawl forth from its cave only pinched, stunted, deformed. He has not the musical resources, the resources of energy, to raise Byron in Italy off the monotonous track on which it has been running since the start. It has become the kind of work a sleepwalker might write.
He sighs. It would have been nice to be returned triumphant to society as the author of an eccentric little chamber opera. But that will not be. His hopes must be more temperate: that somewhere from amidst the welter of sound there will dart up, like a bird, a single authentic note of immortal longing. As for recognizing it, he will leave it to the scholars of the future, if there are still scholars by then. For he will not hear the note himself, when it comes, if it comes — he knows too much about art and the ways of art to expect that. Though it would have been nice for Lucy to hear proof in her lifetime, and think a little better of him.