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About the Author
Hugo Hamilton was born and grew up in Dublin. He is the author of six highly acclaimed novels: 'Surrogate City', 'The Last Shot' and 'The Love Test' (Faber); 'Headbanger' and 'Sad Bastard' (Secker); one collection of short stories; and the internationally acclaimed memoir, 'The Speckled People'.
Read an Excerpt
They must have been out of their minds with fear. They ran down to the basement holding hands, shouting, still half asleep, crashing into each other in the blackout. The children could feel the adults shaking. They could hear the panic in their voices. They could hear the sirens howling through the apartment blocks and the deep hum of organ music around the city as the planes arrived overhead.
When the first of the bombs came whistling down through the air, they huddled together praying. 'Now it's our turn, God help us.' They were so frightened that they lost their personalities. Some of them marked the nights of bombing in chalk on cellar walls. Defenceless creatures clustered together underground, holding their hands over their ears, while above them the black formation of planes crossed the night sky. Wave upon wave of them with deathly silences in between. They followed the descent of each bomb, trying to guess how close it was. They felt the earth jump each time and felt the force of the blast in their hair, along the scalp. It blew out the windows and sucked the slates off the roof. It cut through buildings and opened them up like the cross section of a doll's house, showing how people lived inside with their neat interiors, beds, dressers, tables and tea sets. Some of them perished in their apartments, either too late to flee into the basement or else deciding to stay and ignore their fear, comforting themselves with the last of the wine and their doomed black humour while the sky lit up with dropping candles, like a Christmas tree. The phosphor came spilling down the stairs, into the living rooms, gleamingwhite luminous fire trickling along the bedroom walls until everything was in flames.
Gregor Liedmann was asleep in his bed and never even woke up. He was almost three years old and went straight from his dream into death, surrounded by his pencils and his writing pad and the wooden ship that his grandfather Emil had made for him. His mother said he was very good with words. He was an early speaker and was already counting and writing the alphabet. Large letters sloping down the page at an angle. That's how he went to sleep every night, with the writing pad under his pillow and the sharp pencils around him which his mother then had to remove very carefully like a patient game of Mikado sticks to make sure he didn't wake up again. He was dreaming about spitting. He used to watch the two older boys across the landing holding on to the banisters and spitting down into the stairwell. He observed the spit falling silently, swaying on its way down and eventually hitting the polished floor below with a click. He got into trouble one day when the old woman with all the hats suddenly looked up and saw him. The older boys had disappeared by the time she came up the stairs to make a complaint, so he had to listen to her saying what a disgusting child he was, spitting down on people's heads. And though his mother told the woman that it was not the worst thing she could be hit by in these times, she was cross with Gregor afterwards and said she would take the pencils off him if he ever spat down the stairwell again.
Now it was one of the big blockbusters coming for him. Four thousand pounds of black steel packed with high explosives like a hard chocolate cake. His mother came running through the hallway, but she was thrown back by the blast and landed on the far side of the house with the ceiling on top of her. They found her in a bed of plaster, under a blanket of entwined batons and criss-crossed joists. When she woke up, they had to hold her back because she wanted to continue running into Gregor's bedroom which no longer existed. The back of the house was missing entirely. The boy gone. No sign of him left, or his room. Nothing but a shell of unfamiliar walls, rooms cut in half, missing doors and flaming architraves. If it wasn't for the brightness of the fires all around and the smoke and the neighbours holding her back, she would have walked straight out over the cliff, down into that emptiness left behind by her son.
They were still putting out the fires the next day, clearing the debris from the streets to make way for transport. The trees were raining cinders. People were lost and disoriented, walking in a daze. Everyone coughing, searching in the rubble, rescue workers picking up beams of blackened wood to see who might be underneath. The day was dark. And cold. There was a terrible silence and clouds of smoke hung over the city, keeping back the sun. Some of them got the idea of wearing bathing goggles against the dust. People were being carried away on pieces of wood, in barrows, on children's prams. Bodies covered in grey dust, naked, unrecognisable, red and black and pink, shrunken with no features left. Some of them fused together in the very position in which they had died so they had to be carried out in a charred embrace. In some places they found nothing more than a trace of life left behind, a liquid, a piece of grease, wax remains around a cup or a bent spoon. A melted button. Many of the basements were connected in a warren so they could escape from one house to the next all the way down the street. In one corridor underground, they found dead people huddled on both sides of a steel door, all hoping it would lead to air. The injured could be heard crying and moaning. A young girl standing on the street in a state of delusion with her head wrapped in a scarf, asking for an apple. Does anyone have an apple for me? she kept trying to say, even though most of her jaw was missing and she could hardly enunciate the words. And everywhere the names being called. Names echoing along the blackened hulls of apartment blocks, deep in the backyards where walls were still collapsing without notice in a profound rumble, making people run away in every direction all over again.Disguise
A Novel. Copyright © by Hugo Hamilton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.