The Collected Novels Volume Two: A Serious Man, A Temporary Life, and A Prodigal Child

The Collected Novels Volume Two: A Serious Man, A Temporary Life, and A Prodigal Child

by David Storey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504055024
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 1190
Sales rank: 1,215,020
File size: 13 MB
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About the Author

David Storey was born in 1933 in Yorkshire, England, and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. His novels won many prizes, including the Macmillan Fiction Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. He also wrote fifteen plays and was a fellow of University College London. Storey passed away in 2017 at the age of eighty-three.

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CHAPTER 1

Harriet says I'm going to die.

It's true, she had, moments before she told me, lost her temper (who wouldn't with a man of sixty-five who behaves as if he were approaching ninety?); yet she had been talking to Raynor (was ensconced with him this morning for half an hour and when she came out looked very peaked), and though Raynor has only made the one examination he has, she says, consulted Maidstone, the Sub-Dean of the Medical School and the Longcroft Professor of Psychiatry at the North London Royal, by telephone as well as letter.

Two and a half years in Boady Hall (and the same again at the N.L.R.) have not done me, on the whole, a lot of good. I say 'in', but, to be more accurate, in and out: yet when I was out the threat of re-internment never left me. When, for instance, she said, 'You are going to die,' my immediate response was to say, 'Is that a clinical judgement or merely a comment on the nature of life?' and might have gone on to announce, 'I haven't lived long enough. There's so much still I'd like to do,' but since, moments later, she walked out of the room I was unable to decide precisely what she meant and could only call after her, 'That's what I want. To put an end to all this pain.'

Why she's brought me to this house I've no idea: over the past five years I've come to hate as well as fear the mention of its name. 'I can't leave you in this hovel,' she declared, meaning my home in Taravara Road I shared with Vi, and when I replied, 'I love this place. Vivienne and I were very happy,' she instantly responded, 'Don't talk to me about her. You know how much you despised her.'

'I didn't despise her at all,' I told her, totally confused.

'Why do you think she killed herself?' she asked.

'The pain,' I said, 'became too much. More,' I went on, 'than people like you, with humdrum jobs and humdrum minds (with humdrum feelings and humdrum reflections) can possibly imagine.'

I make her cruel. It's a charge other people have made in the past. 'You make me cruel. Cruel and wicked. I don't know why you do it,' Bea would say.

'Cruel to be kind,' I'd tell her, and, from time to time, might add, 'There's a wicked streak in all of us that's all the better for being out.'

'But why directed at me?' she would ask. 'Someone you've chosen to share things with.'

'I've never had much patience with rectitude,' I'd tell her.

'In that case,' she'd say, 'we shouldn't have married,' and when, later, poor Vi came on the scene, 'Why, for instance, didn't you marry her?'

Harriet always loved this house, even as a child, when she skipped about its lawns and through its wood, climbed its trees and dug its garden (rode the neighbours' horses – and one or two of the old shires from Freddie's yard – and held picnics with the neighbours' children by the porch, the steps set out with the contents of a hamper which had been carried by Rosie, the Corcorans' 'woman', around the house, from the kitchen door a distance of no more than twenty-five yards).

'I can't do anything here but die,' I told her when she brought me to the place the other night.

'If that's what you have in mind,' she said.

'Why are you so malevolent?' I asked.

'You make me cruel, Father!' she cried, in much the same way as Bea would cry when, in the last years of our marriage, I told her lies – lies about work, lies about art (lies about God, reality, etc.).

'So much of my past is bound up in this place,' I said. 'It was by those trees that I courted your mother. It was by that lawn that I fell in love. It's the worst place you could have chosen. Ask Maidstone. He'll tell you.'

'It was his idea,' she said, 'I should bring you.'

'It wasn't, in that case,' I said, 'from the kindness of your heart.'

'Kindness and heart are not words I care to associate with our relationship,' she told me. 'And haven't done so now for quite some time.'

When we reached the house the other night Charlie had left the gates wide open and the lamps, mounted on their quaint, cast-iron poles, burning in the drive. Only the leafless trees, however, and the lightless hulk of the place itself were visible against the moonlit sky. I shuddered as I stepped out from the car and Harriet, solicitous for me, suddenly enquired, 'Are you all right?' assuming it was the journey and not the place that had suddenly upset me.

'This place,' I said, 'will kill me.'

'It will,' she said, 'if you allow it. You're mad,' she had gone on. 'Why should I listen to anything you say?'

'You told me years ago I had a touch of genius,' I had told her, recalling having lunch in the restaurant at the Tate after supervising the hanging of several of my pictures and, taken aback to see how well they stood up to – or out from – the Picassos and Matisses, she had said, 'You have a touch of genius, Father,' like she might, after half a lifetime, have suddenly announced, 'You have red hair. All these years I took it to be brown.'

'You did have a touch of genius,' she said (her new-found philosophy à la Gurdjieff coming to the fore). 'What difference does it make? You can't take genius with you. Relationships are more important.'

'But don't earn any money.'

She hated me in my mocking mood: as a child, coming home from school with her latest cult which I, in those days, instantly destroyed, she would rush to her room and, slamming the door, stay inside for hours.

'You were brilliant,' she said, 'but your mind,' the biter bit, 'has lost its effervescence.'

I've been ill; how ill I can't recall. Harriet suspects, by bringing me here, she will, as she describes it, 're-animate those areas of your mind that previously existed. Mum says you were at peace,' she had added, 'the times you came up here.'

But can she possibly imagine what my youth in and around this place was like; and, worst of all, could she imagine what life was like twelve miles away, at Onasett, to the north?

When I first came here the valley below the house was full of smoke: a slag heap smouldered from the brow of an adjoining hill; shunting engines chuntered in and out of the village street, hauling lines of trucks to and from the main railway line a mile and a half to the south. The place, morning, noon and night, was full of men with blackened faces and stout, broad-chested women. The school at which, during the war, Bea's mother taught stood at the foot of the colliery heap, its brickwork streaked with soot and smoke, and the marks, or so it seemed, of a million blackened fingers.

I first came to Ardsley late one night in the back of a car, my friend Otterton behind the wheel, the lugubrious Jenny, his girlfriend, beside him, delivering Bea from our last school party – the last time I saw Otterton, or Jenny, and the first time I had escorted B.

I recall drawing up at a green-painted door let into a tall stone wall – its sandstone texture visibly eroded – and, after disabusing me of the notion that she was 'one of those' (girls who allowed intimacies on the first acquaintance), her condescending to a goodnight kiss – a light brushing of her lips on mine – and, with a wave, she was gone – a glimpse, beyond the wall, of a lighted path before a bolt was drawn.

It sits, Ardsley Old Hall, halfway up a wooded hill, a flat-fronted, five-bayed Georgian structure with a central porticoed entrance. A beech hedge, at the front, circumscribes a lawn within which are set rectangular, round and crescent-shaped flowerbeds. Trellises, threaded with roses and, here and there, a fruit tree, run off on either side to where, in one direction, a wicket-gate gives access to an orchard and, in the other, a stone arch, inset in a buttressed wall, opens into an area at one time known as Corcoran's Yard, a cobbled precinct occupied, in the years before my first visit to the house, by Freddie's carts, his stabled horses and, latterly, by his large, tall-sided lorries. Enclosed by terraced, stone-built dwellings, it is known nowadays as Ardsley Close: a pair of recently-erected metal gates, permanently closed, occupy the arch, cutting off Harriet's and Charlie's grounds from this previous heart of Freddie's kingdom.

At the foot of the slope, and all but hidden by the trees, lies Ardsley village. The pit – Old Ardsley Main – has gone: a symmetrically landscaped slope, dotted with trees and shrubs, has replaced the colliery heap – a wedge of uniformly ascending grass which overlooks the terraced streets and, when the trees are bare, as now, the façade and the grounds of the house itself.

CHAPTER 2

'I've brought you some tea,' Harriet said, coming into my room this morning. 'What would you like for breakfast?'

It must have been late: Lottie (ten) and Glenda (five) no doubt had gone to school; and Charlie, no doubt, had gone to work (some mornings, Etty has told me – although he only goes to Linfield, twelve miles away to the north – he leaves at seven): the driveway to the house is at the rear and vehicles approaching or leaving are seldom heard.

'I'm not that old. There's still some time to go. I can still get up for breakfast,' I said.

'So you shall. Providing,' she said, 'Mrs Otterman cooks it.'

'Neither Mrs Otterman nor anyone else is needed,' I said. 'I'm quite capable of cooking it myself.'

I watched her open the curtains: 'How she endeavours to indulge me,' I reflected. 'A pavlovian response,' she once remarked: 'I see an old man and my immediate response is to offer to help.'

Turning from the curtains, she said, 'You look older than at any other time I've known you. You even look older than Grandpa,' referring to a photograph of Freddie (Corcoran, the profligate haulage contractor, coal-merchant, insurance agent and landowner, Bea's father) about whom we had been talking the night before ('What youthful spirits!' etc.), the photograph (in a silver frame) standing on the mantelpiece in the living-room below. 'You look more frightened, too,' she went on, never slow, from childhood, to identify my ailments, a subliminal form of retribution which gave her, I had always thought, much charm.

'What is madness,' Maidstone had once enquired, his eyes half-shut, flicking the plastic top of his fountain pen, 'but our ability to see other people as they see themselves but not as other people see them?' and though there might have been a facetious truth in this, it has, throughout my life, been my inability to see myself as anything at all that has lain at the root of all my problems.

Etty, of course, has a vested interest in seeing me as not only old but mad.

'I shall have bacon and egg,' I said. 'With sausage and tomato. Toast, marmalade. Fruit juice and coffee.'

'You never eat it,' she complained.

'I shall today,' I said, 'I feel quite well.'

'What are you planning?' she suddenly enquired.

It had been something about the way she had come into the room – moving to the bed and then the curtains, the projection of her arm (after setting down the tea) – that had reminded me of Isabella.

'My life from now on is totally unplanned,' I said.

'That,' she said, 'is what I feared,' dark hair coiled loosely round her head, dark eyes, a thin-lipped mouth (inherited from Bea), a delicate nose, a slender neck: sharp-featured, querulous (Bea, too): nevertheless, I see a great deal of myself in Etty, not least when she contemplates, as she might through the wrong end of a telescope, what, in no other mood but this, she considers to be her blighted ambition. 'You've never gone in want of anything,' I tell her. 'When you and Matt (her elder sister) were young you were seldom out of my sight.'

They spent much of their time, in fact, in my studio, I allowing them, from time to time, to contribute to my pictures: much paint was splashed about (an expressionist phase): 'Just look at it, Mummy!' when Bea came in and globules of red or blue were flicked in her direction.

'What am I doing with my life?' she would ask (like Bea used to ask when they were children: 'What am I doing here if you have them all the while?').

'You're happily married. You have two wonderful children. Your husband loves you,' is my reply, followed by, as with Bea, 'But, of course, these things have been devalued. Paranoia, with women, has got the upper hand. The obligation is to go around with a cross strapped on their backs, like the colliers, in the old days, used to haul the waste-trucks to the top of the tip where, fortunately for them, the contents were emptied out. Nowadays, of course ...' etc., etc.

'What about me?' she asks. 'Caring and affection are to do with other people (even if my husband and my children are people that I love).'

'Everything,' I tell her, 'is to do with other people. Isn't Charlie,' I go on, 'as dependent on you?'

'Like you, he,' she says, 'can work.'

'So,' I tell her, 'can you.'

'The centres of research are all in London, Paris and New York,' she says (to mention but a few).

'What centres of research?' My obtuseness, in the old days, drove her mad. 'Isn't life a centre of research? I'm surprised you don't see you're living in such a location now.'

She is the authoress of a single book: The Caravaggio Papers. The book, absurdly, despite its scholastic pretensions, was made into a film. Etty, despite my warnings, sold the rights for a single sum. It made, for everyone involved, except the author, a great deal of money. 'I told you not to sell it,' I'd said (rape, sodomy, murder: what more could they want?). 'But if you did,' I'd gone on, 'to guarantee yourself a percentage of the budget. All you said, if you recall, was, "I don't care what they do. The book will last." It has,' I'd added. 'For six months, in paperback, at every airport in the land.'

A tray appears around the door. 'What's put you into such a good mood?' she says.

It is, I have come to the conclusion, the trees, their trunks hidden by the steepness of the slope, that have reminded me not only of waking in this room but of the hours spent sitting or standing by the window splashing or scouring my way across a canvas (attached to an easel set at an angle to distract the southern light), or stooping over a sketchbook scratching with a pen or, more intensely, over a sheaf of paper writing what turned out to be my Onasett poem and the beginning of a novel.

'I've always liked the trees,' I tell her, and add, 'They look much grander (silver birch and chestnut) now they've taken down the elm.'

Laying down the tray, relieved at having something of no consequence to talk about, she says, 'I always regret you can never see the trunks.'

'You see those,' I tell her, 'from the lower windows. In the old days, when the trees had shed their leaves, from up here you could see the pit and hear the panting of the winding-gear and the rattle of the trucks. In the early mornings, too, you could hear the whining of the dynamo and, once the clatter of the miners' clogs had died, came the clatter of the women's as they set off to Moxon's, at Thorncliff. They made cloth for soldiers' uniforms throughout the Second World War.'

'Did you live here long?' she says: affection for the place, though canvassed for, in this case, fills her with unease.

'I only stayed,' I tell her, 'from time to time. Coming here, from Onasett, was like coming to a palace.' I add, 'I was always given this room. I think Corcoran thought he could keep an eye on me in here. Your mother had her bedroom at the back. Her parents, of course, had the one that you and Charlie share.'

Sitting on the edge of the bed she says, 'What about the other rooms?'

'Your grandfather – Grandfather Corcoran – had an office in the one your children have. Your great-grandfather, H.J. Kells, occupied two others. Your great-grandmother Corcoran occupied two more. She and Grandfather Kells were always at each other's throats. Your grandmother, Isabella, also had a room in which she did her thinking.'

'What sort of thinking?' Etty asks.

'She was a very peculiar woman.'

'I thought you liked her.'

'Enormously,' I tell her.

I am about to add, 'I loved her deeply. She was the greatest love of my life,' but, recalling Maidstone's injunction, 'Where your children and your wife are concerned I should leave your accounts of that woman alone,' I merely continue,' I didn't expect to have breakfast in bed. I could easily have come down.'

'It won't happen often,' she says and, a moment later, after getting up, adds, 'Are you all right?'

'Perfectly,' I tell her.

'You went quite pale a moment ago.'

'I can't see you,' I tell her, 'against the light,' and, as she moves to one side, continue, 'Most of the time I talk to myself. It's something to do with my illness. Maidstone, whom you never liked, made quite a point of stressing it.'

'I never said I disliked him,' she says.

'Loquaciousness, he suggested, was the indirect result of my spending too much time on my own. "How can I create?"

I said. "Don't you realise, before you came here," he said, "creativity had been your downfall?"'

For a while she holds my hand, and neither of us speaks.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Collected Novels Volume Two"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

A SERIOUS MAN,
A TEMPORARY LIFE,
A PRODIGAL CHILD,
A Biography of David Storey,

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