“Vampires, secrets, the mysteries of identity: the obsessions that run through the director Neil Jordan’s films are at the center of his beautifully enigmatic novel . . . of two look-alike men who feed off each other’s souls all their crisscrossed lives” (The New York Times).
Kevin Thunder and Gerald Spain have grown up on opposite sides of the Dublin economic divide. Kevin’s father is a bookie and his mother takes in lodgers on the city’s impoverished northside. Gerald, a lawyer’s son, is afforded a more well-heeled upbringing. Yet they share a growing awareness of each other through episodes of mistaken identity. At first, innocent enough—one approached by the other’s confused girlfriend, or being called out to in the street.
But Kevin is unnerved by more than a doppelganger. He lives next door to the one-time home of Bram Stoker. And the shadows of the author’s evil creation, as well as those cast by a lookalike stranger, stretch far across his early years. It’s only when a tragic death sends both young men down a darker path, that Kevin and Gerald are destined to meet.
A “beautifully enigmatic . . . darkly luminous” (The New York Times Book Review) thriller, Mistaken is also “the best novel I’ve read about Dublin in years” (The Independent).
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I HAD BEEN MISTAKEN for him so many times that when he died it was as if part of myself had died too. And so I attended his funeral, to say goodbye to that part of myself that would abide now in the cold clay of Deansgrange, to be wept over by lovers I may or may not have known, by whatever public still remembered him, by an ex-wife, two children and a family dog. It was the dog that caused the trouble in the end.
Out of respect, out of a misplaced sense of drama, out of that perennial urge 'not to cause any trouble,' for whatever reason anyway I wore a hat to the funeral, a college scarf and a pair of those sunglasses beloved of minor celebrities. I took my place among the mourners — and there were a lot of them, I was gratified to see, in that state of hushed numbness appropriate to one who had died, as the obit said, 'in what should have been the prime of life.' I suppose obituary writers must use some kind of phrase book. Fools for instance were never to be suffered gladly, one's appetite for life was nothing less than lust, and one's family had a bosom to return to and ultimately rest within.
Anyway, he had died in his mid-fifties so the atmosphere within that crowd was one of caught breath. There were real tears and none of the calm resignation that would have been appropriate to a body that had had 'a good innings.' No, his innings had been turbulent, dramatic, and cruelly cut short. The tears were raw and the shock was palpable, which was one of the reasons I attended the funeral and not the removal, where close contact with the family would have been unavoidable.
I arrived late at the funeral mass, stood among the crowd at the back of the church and drove well behind the cortëge out to the windswept suburb of Deansgrange. I was among the last to walk among the old yew trees to the further end of the graveyard where the newly minted marble headstones rose from the wet grass like dragon's teeth. But you ended up right ahead of me, pulling a sad old dog by the lead, and the dog sensed something, as dogs will, and turned and licked my left hand.
The dog smelt something it knew — sweat, the odour of the familiar. I had always looked like him and now I realized I had his musky essence as well. Your hand was pulled by the lead and your head turned and I saw a pair of brown eyes over a mauve scarf and I recognized, through the tears, the slow dawning of recognition in your eyes.
What to do now? I asked myself. Don't get involved, don't engage in conversation whatever you do, your purpose here is to bear witness, nothing more. But it was already too late. The dog was licking my hand, leaving a coat of saliva over my ringless fingers, and as anyone who has seen a romantic comedy knows, only the villainous smoke cigarettes and react harshly to a dog's advances.
So I said, 'There you go, good boy,' or whatever version of that one says to dogs, and you jerked on the leash and said in a halting voice, 'I'm sorry, he can get over-friendly,' and a hesitant conversation began that was hard to stop. Even the intoned prayers of the priest as the coffin was lowered didn't quite quench it because you cried when the leather straps that held the box touched the laths of wood in the wet earth of the grave. 'I'm sorry,' you said, 'it's so final, somehow,' and your head touched my shoulder and it would have been churlish of me not to extend my hand and apply a gentle, comforting pressure to your elbow.
'I know,' I said, 'I know' — the words were coming out of my lips because I did know, I knew too much in fact, and because of that dog I would come to know much more.
There are other beginnings, of course. I could go back to them — mine, his, northside, southside, the minuscule class difference that can mean everything or nothing. But I suppose the real beginning for me was the dawning awareness that somewhere in this city there was somebody like me. Somebody so like me as to cause confusion, recognition, chaos, heartbreak, and ultimately death. And another death besides his.
I was his lost soul, his other, and ultimately, his ghost. The fact that we looked like each other was not entirely relevant since the shapes we present to the world at fourteen, say, and at forty are so different that any of us might be two different people. And at fourteen, when I traveled across to a dance in the southside suburb of Dun Laoghaire and a young girl asked me up during ladies' choice (it was a quaint institution at the time, a small recognition of the fact that ladies did have choices, albeit only romantic ones) and moved her young body in towards me immediately and asked me how I'd been, I told her I'd been well, though I had never met her before. I accepted the closeness of her small breasts, the welcome thrust of her hips in answer to my fingers at the small of her back as my due, though I subsequently found out that the due was his.
'Gerald,' she whispered and, wisely or not, I refrained from setting her right and telling her my name was Kevin. If she wanted me to be Gerald, then Gerald I was, for the evening at least, which ended on the rocks behind the pier with me untangling her brassiere and her whispering into my ear, 'Now why have you never done that before?' And perhaps the darkness of that evening, the twinkling ball of light over the dance floor, and the low sodium lamps over the pier might have explained why she confused me with him, but over the years I came to understand that even that explanation was inadequate. It wasn't all about looks — our dark eyebrows and what you came to describe as my downy mouth. And I looked nothing like the corpse that was being lowered into the Deansgrange grave that late winter's day. No. I think the key lay in what the dog noticed, as he sniffed and slobbered over my hand: that we were two halves of the same soul, or to be more prosaic about it, we smelt alike.
Odour, perfume, smell, stink, whatever name you give to the olfactory side of things, is far more powerful, carries more suggestiveness than sight alone, and those flashes of recognition that had blessed or bedeviled my existence were often registered by the nose and not the eyes. Because even when his breath was bad, it smelt like mine. A scent in a room or on a street, the tang of sweat, whatever shampoo I used as a fourteen year old, the leathery whiff of that suede waistcoat I was so proud of as a kid, of the gabardine coat he wore as a student, the combined musk they gave rise to was always common to us both.
And that was what the dog responded to as I withdrew my hand from your elbow to allow you to weep at the finality of the sight of your father's coffin touching the base of its muddy grave. Your mother was at the head of it, your brother beside her, and I remember wondering why you weren't within their privileged circle of grief. There was a small mechanical digger to one side; no effort had been made to hide it from the ranks of mourners. There was a rolled-up carpet of artificial grass, its unnaturally bright green muddied in places with the brown stains of gravediggers' boots. There were the long leather straps, held by the gravediggers to lower the coffin, and dumped then, unceremoniously, on the carpet of artificial green. There was the smoking silver orb that the priest swung in a decreasing arc, then the device like a baby's silver rattle from which he shook and sprinkled drops onto the coffin below. There were the words of the rite that he intoned, about perpetual light shining, but I heard them just as a murmur, a kind of muzak acting as a bed to the muffled sound of weeping. Then the time came, as it does at these events, when the small drama is mysteriously over and one by one they all peeled off and walked back over the muddy tracks through the path of yew trees.
I STAYED. I was uninvited after all, and I was curious to see what was considered a decent interval between a funeral's end and the business of starting up the mechanical digger. One of the gravediggers lit a cigarette, the other tinkled with a set of keys. They both stood beneath a poplar tree, taking whatever shelter they could from the soft mist falling. Maybe they were waiting for the rain to end, I was thinking, when I felt the dog's tongue on my left hand again, the soft furry fungus of it, and the saliva like a snail's trail. I looked down and saw its leash dangling in the mud. Way behind him, close to the line of yew trees, were the massed umbrellas of the mourners, retreating, like so many mushrooms come alive in a fairy-tale forest.
'Hey, Argus,' I whispered, or I thought, as I took up the curled end of the leash from the wet ground. Odysseus had been betrayed by just such a dog, by the same animal affection. I heard the mechanical digger cough into life and saw one gravedigger bundle up the laths, the leather straps, and the muddied green carpet as the other guided the machine in a semicircle, lowered the rust-toothed maw, and began pushing the mound of wet earth down towards the coffin below.
The interval seemed almost indecent but the mourners were beyond hearing, a cluster of tiny umbrellas now, moving towards the car park beyond the yew trees. And maybe that's what they were waiting for. So I walked back, following their muddy footsteps, wondering how I would get rid of this damned dog.
But a voice called out from between the yew trees and I looked up to see your brown eyes glistening above the mauve scarf.
'You've found him.'
'It was more a case of him finding me.'
'He seems to know you.'
'Dogs are funny that way.'
'And you knew my father?'
'Yes, you could say that. I knew him on and off.'
I was lying now, but only whitely.
'I probably should remember your name then. I'm sorry, but there's a lot going on, as you can imagine.'
'Ned,' I lied again. 'Ned Gaskett.'
And I shook your hand. It was a small hand, but with a strong, practical core to it, a sense of strength and fragility there at the same time. I had seen him pushing you on a swing in Stephen's Green. I had watched him watch you through the school railings during his worst days, afraid to approach. But I had never held your hand. And as I held it, I wondered where the pseudonym had come from. He had used a pseudonym once, saying it released something in him. I wondered what this one would release in me.
The Ned made sense, but the Gaskett was an absurd choice by any standards. A gasket was something to do with pipes and plumbing — a mechanical seal, I found out later, between two mating surfaces. It was nothing to do with anything. But as I placed the crook of the leash into your small hand I felt the need to conjure up a history for this Ned Gaskett, yet a third history that was neither Kevin's nor Gerry's. An upbringing in the small houses round Kilmainham, looking over the river towards Phoenix Park and the Wellington Monument. Maybe a job in the middle ranks of the civil service. But any questions as to my identity would come later; and anyway, you later forgot the stupid name entirely. You introduced yourself as Emily and turned and walked towards the car park with the dog now leading the way and the implicit assumption that I would follow.
'You're coming back,' you said, and it wasn't a question, it was a statement. 'There's sandwiches and tea and drinks and stuff. She wants everyone to be there. She thinks it's important — so many people lost touch.' And she was one of them, I thought, but what I said was, 'I don't think I can.' But the dog intruded once again. He went back to licking my hand.
'Toby's quite insistent too,' you said.
And so I kind of sighed and twisted the ball of my shoe in the wet ground and asked where it was.
'She moved house.'
There was one in Rathmines, I remembered, before things got bad.
'Yeah, you know. When everything went ... pear shaped ...'
'Will I follow you?'
'Yes, you'd better follow me.'
THERE WERE TWO cars left in the graveyard car park, a small red Mini Cooper and my German thing. I watched you walk towards the red one, saw the dog leap in through the opened door and settle himself familiarly in the backseat, and I had hardly opened my own door before you drove off.
I followed then, turned right behind you down Deansgrange Road, turned another right at Bakers Corner and headed up Kill Avenue towards Foxrock Church. Why had she moved out here, I wondered. They had been creatures of a different Dublin, those comfortable streets that ended at the Grand Canal. But the opulence of the city was moving southwards, towards the foothills of the Dublin mountains, and maybe she had wanted to avoid him.
The car turned right then, on to the dual carriageway, left again on Leopardstown Road, past the racecourse and traced a route I could never have followed myself, through the industrial parks and the new hotels onto a road below the Three Rock Mountain, past a wooden church painted blue, through a pair of gates where an avenue made its way among old beeches to an ivy-covered frontage and a turnaround of more parked cars.
The house from the outside had some grandeur to it. I guessed it would have been built in the twenties, but it had a late Victorian feel, subdued as it was by the old coating of ivy.
'Your mother's house?' I asked, when you emerged from your parked car.
'Yes,' you said. 'Don't you hate it? She bought it when her mother died.'
I was remembering a magnificent house, a castle really, of rose-coloured sandstone.
'I preferred home,' you said. 'Or Granny's place. But we're loaded now, aren't we, and that's all that matters.'
The tow-headed dog followed you and I followed him through the open door. You were greeted by an avalanche of well-wishers and were saved the necessity of dealing with me, for awhile at least. I didn't so much mingle as slide into the gathering, like a joker card into a game of Newmarket. There were trays of sandwiches, held by pretty young women with their hair pinned back; there was a bar with waistcoated barmen and the loud buzz of conversation — nothing hushed about it now, as if the dead hand of grief had been magically lifted.
There was a hushed centre, though, to all of this activity, a large auburn sofa near the French windows where I could see a beautifully cut head of grey hair silhouetted by the window light which I assumed belonged to Dominique, your mother, his ex-wife, and now, it seemed, his official widow. Would she recognize me? I wondered. If she had met him at all towards the end, she might not, and I don't think she had. But I recognized some literary types, a tall, sandy-haired talk show host, and a small man with a pencil-thin moustache whom I knew to be his first editor.
I made my way to the bar and had asked the barman for a sparkling water when a woman to my left turned, and a familiar refrain sounded.
'Excuse me, don't I know you?'
'Maybe,' I said. 'I've been around awhile.'
She had blonde hair, and a thin, dark pencil line threaded the shape of her lipstick.
'No, I know you. Were you a friend of Gerald's?'
You couldn't go far wrong here with that supposition, I wanted to say, but I managed to be more polite.
'On and off,' I said, 'over the years.'
'Not for some time.' 'Yes,' she said, 'it's that kind of affair. His and hers.'
'His and her what?'
'Friends,' she said. 'After the ... thing ...'
'His last years weren't ...'
'They weren't pleasant, I heard. I hadn't met him for years. But when I heard, I wept.'
Her eyes, though, seemed fine — bright, the eyelids touched with the same dark pencil as the lips.
'It hasn't hit them yet. Do you feel that? Has it really hit them?'
'Well, no. It takes some time, it has to. A year, I've been told, for grief finally to lift.'
'You sound like a counsellor.'
'No, just a friend.'
'Once upon a time, of both.'
'And we've never met?'
I began to regret my proletarian hauteur then, and had to come right out with it.
'It's a common thing,' I told her. 'A lot of people have felt that.'
'That they know you?'
'Yes. The way they feel they know television presenters, failed actors. I've always been mistaken, and most of all for the deceased.'
'Gerald? My God, of course. Were you related?'
'We looked alike, or so I've been told, in some way that I could never quite fathom.'
'And were you close?'
'As close as two people could be.'
'That sounds alarming.'
'Let me put it this way. If I was mistaken for him, then from time to time he obviously could be mistaken for me. So it became a long waltz of mutual confusion. There was a sick kind of fun to it, which we both shared.'
I had said too much, and her face showed it. As when one replies to the question 'How are you?' with a litany of digestive complaints, my replies were making her uneasy. Which may have been what I wanted, for I could feel her beginning to retreat and the dog was once again rubbing its head on the back of my hand.
'Toby!' I heard and I felt his head jerk. His tongue came clean off the back of my hand and his head turned towards you. Emily.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mistaken"
Copyright © 2011 Neil Jordan.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ALSO BY NEIL JORDAN,
DUNNE & CRESCENZA,
THE BULL WALL,
GREAT DENMARK STREET,
THE SOUTH PIER,
GRAND CANAL DOCK,
THE B&I FERRY,
THE GREEN LOUNGE,
THE MIDDLE THIRD,
MULBERRY, SWANN & WILSON,
THE SOUTH WALL,
BEWLEY'S, GRAFTON STREET,
ST. STEPHEN'S GREEN,
BEWLEY'S, WESTMORELAND STREET,
THE TRINITY BALL,
THE WELLINGTON MONUMENT,
THE NATIONAL GALLERY,
ROOM WITH A VIEW,
THE HOLE IN THE WALL,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you click to purchase this NOOK book you will NOT get Neil Jordans book but rather a book by BRANDY Jordan. When you contact BN customer service they tell you tough luck no refunds. So do yourself a favor and don't buy this you will be out your money and stuck with a book you've never heard of. HORRIBLE customer service. Would be nice if you AT LEAST fixed this issue BN! Since I know at least I have made you aware of it. BN member since 1998 will certainly be rethinking that upon renewal time.
Just wanted to let others know that the link for Mistaken worked when I purchased the book. Haven't read it yet!
I loved this novel - an engaging and compelling story of two boys who grow up together in Dublin. The writing really draws you into another world. I only knew of the author's film work, and now I want to go check out his other novels!
I have to agree with the other review. The book was boring and nothing happened so I did not finish it. There is no doubt that Mr Jordan is a talented writer. The prose is lovely but I was expecting an exciting story.
Poor enough novel I thought. Good idea, but nothing happened. I got bored with the repitition, maybe that was a literary device like Beckett, and I missed it, but it didn't work for me. Dreary and boring. And the geographical inaccuracies really got on my nerves. I live in Dublin and some of the routes he takes just don't make any sense, ah well, not one for me.
I was luckier that the first reviewer, though. I contacted Customer Service using online chat and was given a refund. I appears that the book you get depends on the page from which you order.