Naeem Murr Genius of the Sea

ISBN 13: 9780099449997

Genius of the Sea

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9780099449997: Genius of the Sea

According to Amos Radcliff's disability claim, he lost a leg in an accident with a beer barrel, but when social worker Daniel arrives to investigate he meets with a shock. To begin with Amos is living in Daniel's childhood home, a council flat still full of his dead mother's possessions, and Amos's leg is still very much attached. From this introduction a strange relationship develops between the two men. Daniel finds himself drawn back to the flat again and again to hear Amos's hypnotic seafaring stories and to relive his own memories of his troubled relationships with his mother, his best friend and his beloved wife Sally. Then comes Amos's final, shattering story...

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Naeem Murr was born and raised in London and has lived in the USA since 1987. He has published a number of prize winning stories and novellas. His critically acclaimed first novel, The Boy, was published in 1998 and has been translated into six languages.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Chapter 1


The receptionist at Palm Court gave Daniel a smile well beyond the call of her duty. He was thirty-eight, apologetically tall and attractive, with a thick head of unruly black hair. He regarded her with an expression habitual to him -- as if she reminded him of someone and he were trying to work out whom.

Signing in, he said he knew where to go.

On entering the main corridor, Daniel drew together the lapels of his coat. He became aware of this gesture and it troubled him. It was, he realized, his mother's: loving, superstitious, and proprietary.

He wanted a cigarette, but was trying to quit and had cut down to six a day. He'd already smoked four and had a sense he might need the other two later on.

The desolation of the sanitarium -- locked steel cabinets, whitewashed walls, the smell of ammonia -- was of the same species as his own and increased his nervousness. It had always seemed inconceivable to him that this Victorian mansion had once been someone's home.

A second after he'd entered a section of the corridor thrown into darkness by a faulty fluorescent tube, a massive man loomed out just beside him. Shocked, Daniel flung himself against the wall.

A catatonic with a stricken, pox-scarred face was jammed between two empty display cases.

Daniel moved on, increasing his pace and, just as he looked back, fearing the man might have followed him, he walked right into a tiny nurse who'd emerged from one of the rooms. It wasn't a hard collision, but she seemed hurt, throwing her hand up to her forehead.

He took hold of her elbow. "Are you all right?"

"My fault," she replied.

Removing her hand from her brow, she checked it. There was blood on one of her fingers, and Daniel saw a tiny cut above her left eye.

"What happened?" he said.

She gave a little nod toward his chest, and he looked down to see the Parker pen in his breast pocket.

"I am so -- "

"It wasn't your fault," she insisted, "really. It's just a scratch." She glanced now at his hand, which was still cupping her elbow, and he released her. An awkward few seconds ensued.

Pointing back down the corridor, he said, "There's a patient -- "

"Ah."

"In between the -- "

"Yes, yes, I was...Thank you." She hurried off.

Daniel didn't move for a moment. He felt terrible, but re-felt also, with something quite different from regret, the soft percussion of her body. Lovely voice, he thought, accent of some kind. Pretty girl too. Her odor lingered -- a clean, soapy smell. Suddenly a cry pulsed through the corridors.

Gone then, that cry, with its eerie suggestion of his name, and the nurse gone, and the house so still.

He walked on. He'd come without hesitation when Sally had called. A year. She'd written, letters that were essays into pure observation. He knew what she wanted: to begin with an exchange of their sensibilities, divested as much as they could be of bias, history, and personal reference. To begin. But though he'd been trying to strip himself of exactly these things, he'd never responded. A full year. The loss of her had resurrected the other losses: his mother, the dreams of the empty flat, where she was, wasn't; of Galvin, his dear friend, who had been, in the end, the one to fall.

All the sadness of this year, and the anger -- incandescent. And yet, when Sally had phoned, the sound of her voice had caused him to sit on the floor as if he were being informed of a death. Come on Tuesday, she'd said, three o'clock, her tone that of a secretary setting up an appointment.

He now entered the spacious common room at the back. It shook with the explosions, rattling gunfire, and Stuka screams of a war film being watched by a cluster of patients -- most of whom were standing up, for some reason, like a crowd around an accident. The sunlight lancing in through the French doors revealed the room's mealy air.

This was where they usually met. She loved the light from the stained glass and used almost always to be sitting on the stone sill of one of the large windows. She wasn't there, though, and he looked around for her. Cross-legged on the tiles of the fireplace, scribbling into a notebook, sat a patient Daniel had seen almost every time he'd come. A wasted man with haunted eyes and huge, powerfully useless hands, he always put Daniel in mind of the tortured protagonist of some Russian novel. A couple of times he'd entered this room to find his wife engaged in anxious conversation with this man, and had felt a stab of jealousy. Just beside Daniel, at the Ping-Pong table, sat an Asian woman he'd not seen before. She was poring over a scattered pile of pictures she'd torn from old calendars -- a junk on a jade ocean, a chain of mountains like fractured vertebrae, a stag emerging from the misty waters of a loch -- each picture, within this shattering sound of war, a vista into being beautifully alone. Just as he was struck by the consummate sanity of this escape, she lifted her hands and addressed the pictures in some delicately elaborate sign language.

A shout drew his attention to the little chapel area at the side of the room, and he saw Amir, a male nurse he knew well, on one of the pews. He was trying to soothe a frantic old lady who was clutching a balsa-wood airplane. Amir noticed Daniel at almost the same moment, smiled, and managed to call out, "She's in the conservatory," before the woman struck his mouth with the fuselage.

Daniel waved his thanks and felt a churn of guilt as he went out into the cold and sunny garden. He'd forgotten again to bring a gift for Amir, who'd been so reassuring when his wife had first been admitted three years ago, even writing to Daniel on his own time to let him know how Sally was doing. Amir often surfaced in Daniel's thoughts, had appeared a few times in his dreams. Of course, there were obvious reasons for this, not least of which was the proximity of this kind, compelling, and attractive man to Daniel's wife, whose breakdown had left her so vulnerable. But it was also because he'd been struck by the rare quality of Amir's humanity. Daniel had once heard that, at any given time on the Earth, there lived only thirty-six truly just men. If so, then Amir was one of them -- the one condemned, for obscure reasons, to live out his life here, selflessly, among those suffering the hermetic egoism of madness.

Daniel glanced up into the clear blue sky, so unusual for London in early March and, as he looked back down, his vision smeared with the sun, he noticed, at the west end of the garden, a man sitting in a deck chair. Despite the cold, his feet were bare. He wore only pajamas and a cap, the brim of the latter casting a shadow that completely hid his face. The sight of this man stirred something in Daniel -- a memory, a dream, something -- but the imminence of his meeting with Sally made him too nervous to attend to this feeling for long.

By the time he got to the conservatory, Daniel felt as if he could hardly draw air into his lungs. Their last encounter had been a disaster. After one of her perfunctory phone calls, she'd come to him, entering their home as if it belonged to a dubious stranger. He'd planned to paint the sitting room in time for her visit. He'd bought the paint, cleared away the ornaments, and pulled the furniture in toward the center of the room. Then something -- the same part of him that had refused to write back to her -- had resisted, and it was this devoid, contracted place she came into. She perched herself at the edge of the sofa in front of the elaborate tea he'd prepared, her legs fused, her hands woven in her lap, and her lovely, ash blond hair braided, wound up, and pinned back so tight it seemed the full tension of her being depended upon the purchase of a single barrette.

"I'll have it all painted in a week or two," he'd said, instantly annoyed at himself for making excuses.

She didn't respond, just fixed her remarkable eyes, one brown, one green, on Daniel and waited for him to be quiet before making her fiercely timorous declaration: "Dr. Kenton has released me, Daniel, but I asked him if I could stay on at the home to help out and he said that I could."

Silence. There it was: she was better; she was not coming back. He almost fell to his knees, almost took her hands, almost begged her, but managed to hold out until it came -- anger, helpless, inflating him with the vacuous courage of despair.

Pouring tea calmly into her cup, he said, as if it were really of not much importance to him, "Can I at least visit? You do seem a lot better."

"Write to me, Daniel; let's write for a while."

"Oh, you know me" -- he smiled, a smile he'd felt breaking up at his lips like a fragment of ice from some frigid undercurrent -- "I'm not very good at writing."

"I can't stay long." She clearly wanted to leave but seemed physically unable to, as if, here, she were in thrall to him, as if, if he chose it, they would have to live out their lives performing in this peevish and stifling drama.

It was then that he noticed she hadn't touched any of the tea, realized that she wouldn't. When he used to visit her at the sanitarium before she'd asked him not to come anymore, he'd also never been able to bring himself to eat or drink anything in that place.

As he'd sat there, keeping her and himself in suspension, a word had come to him, beautifully new and suggestive: grief. How many lifetimes, he wondered now, would one have to live to learn every word as well at that?

Daniel shut the conservatory door quietly behind him. There she was, the sight of her another collision -- all their collisions, loving and otherwise, remembered in one flinch of the nerves. She hadn't seen him yet. She was squatting in a bed of daffodils, a child ruining her party dress in the mud, a bunch of the yellow flowers cradled in her arms.

He called: "Sally."

She turned her head to him, then checked her watch, surprised. "You're early."

"Am I?"

She seemed relaxed, which relieved him. Standing, she shed the child, ascended years, arrived finally at the brittle grace of one who has lived a little too long. As on that last visit, her hair was tied back in a tightly wound braid, her lovely face breaking out of it, naked, dehiscent.

As he went to kiss her cheek, she shied, clearly afraid he might seek her lips, and said, tapping her fingers against his wrist, "Didn't I buy you a watch?"

"It was automatic," he said, following her out of the conservatory and across the lawn toward the gardener's cottage.

"Meaning?"

"Bit morbid." He was being terse, to punish her -- how childish.

She frowned, confused. "Morbid? Because it was automatic, you mean?"

He didn't answer.

Softly, dryly, she said, "You're the one who should be in here, you know."

Just as they reached the cottage, Daniel indicated toward the man in the deck chair. "Who's that?"

"Not seen him before," she replied, barely glancing over as she shoved the cottage's ill-fitting door open and led Daniel into a single shadowy space cluttered with her life -- ornaments, keepsakes, pictures, photographs, an antique stove, a table set for tea, a single bed. While he took a seat at the table, she carried the daffodils to the sink, lay them on the draining board, and began to prepare the tea.

Silence then, which he found painful, for at the heart of it was that flinch from his kiss, his own helplessness. He looked at her hair again. It had become paler, pearly, seemed unreal, wrapped in such tight convolutions, as if she could just have reached back and removed it, handed it to him, that relic of another life and self, that shell of what had been her sex.

He wanted to be strong, to ask her, as if it were an effort for him even to be curious, why he was here. And yet he wanted also, desperately, for her to know that in the three years she'd resided here -- in this last year particularly -- he'd been able to feel for nothing but what he'd lost. It had made social work a nightmare for him. He'd found himself increasingly incapable of responding to the lies and half lies of his clients, or even to those things that couldn't be true but were. He couldn't find a way to believe what he was being told, to believe, more frankly, in their lives. I'm jolly bloody well going to set fire to her. He'd laughed. Laughed at that Indian woman's anger and despair because it had to be true, and because it was so badly done. While here it was, his wife's slender back, like a paleontologist's dream, lovely bone of life. If only he could return to this at night, after the Grand Guignol, the Indian woman with her thick accent saying, I'm jolly bloody well going to set fire to her.

"Gorgeous day," he said.

Sally glanced back with a smile but didn't otherwise respond. She was selecting a few of the daffodils for a small vase. Astonishing, after everything, how it had endured, that selfpossession of hers, the way she engaged herself absolutely with whatever she was doing. Even her breakdown; even that she'd engaged with so completely it had almost destroyed her.

"So," he said, "apart from the fact that you're living in a garden shed on the grounds of an insane asylum, how are you?"

"It's not a garden shed," she said, as she brought the vase of daffodils to the table.

"It's a nice little place, actually."

She remained in front of him. "It is a little dark, but you should have seen it when I moved in. Did you ever meet the old gardener?"

"No. I did meet his breath a few times, though."

"Couldn't help that. He had stomach cancer."

"I'm surprised anything survived in his stomach."

She examined his face as though she were looking through curiosities in a box, picking them up, putting them down. "Anyway, he lived in this place for almost fifty years, and when he died, apart from a few bits and bobs, they found nothing in here but a skeleton."

"A skeleton?"

"A dog," she said. "It was under the mattress at the base of the bed. They buried the bones with him."

"Good Lord. Well, that's going to be an interesting find in a few thousand years, isn't it: Homo canis. I want to be buried with the penis of my favorite horse."

She smiled, but vaguely.

"You know," she went on, "he had an old mattress that he must have used for the full fifty years, and on it was this perfect little impression of him. Perfect. You could even see the outline of his toes -- you're laughing at me."

"I'm not laughing at you." This was so Sally. "I'm just -- "

"Anyway," she said, "the point is that you'd think it'd be good that there wasn't anything in here -- for me, I mean, moving in. But the oddest thing about someone who has nothing in his home is that it makes it so...well, so unbearably intimate somehow."

"Too intimate for you?" he said.

Her smile was deeper this time. She seemed to have found it, the thing she would buy, would keep.

"Even for me

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2004. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 194 x 130 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. According to Amos Radcliff s disability claim, he lost a leg in an accident with a beer barrel, but when social worker Daniel arrives to investigate he meets with a shock. To begin with Amos is living in Daniel s childhood home, a council flat still full of his dead mother s possessions, and Amos s leg is still very much attached. From this introduction a strange relationship develops between the two men. Daniel finds himself drawn back to the flat again and again to hear Amos s hypnotic seafaring stories and to relive his own memories of his troubled relationships with his mother, his best friend and his beloved wife Sally. Then comes Amos s final, shattering story. Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099449997

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2004. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 194 x 130 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. According to Amos Radcliff s disability claim, he lost a leg in an accident with a beer barrel, but when social worker Daniel arrives to investigate he meets with a shock. To begin with Amos is living in Daniel s childhood home, a council flat still full of his dead mother s possessions, and Amos s leg is still very much attached. From this introduction a strange relationship develops between the two men. Daniel finds himself drawn back to the flat again and again to hear Amos s hypnotic seafaring stories and to relive his own memories of his troubled relationships with his mother, his best friend and his beloved wife Sally. Then comes Amos s final, shattering story. Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099449997

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Book Description Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, The Genius of the Sea, Naeem Murr, According to Amos Radcliff's disability claim, he lost a leg in an accident with a beer barrel, but when social worker Daniel arrives to investigate he meets with a shock. To begin with Amos is living in Daniel's childhood home, a council flat still full of his dead mother's possessions, and Amos's leg is still very much attached. From this introduction a strange relationship develops between the two men. Daniel finds himself drawn back to the flat again and again to hear Amos's hypnotic seafaring stories and to relive his own memories of his troubled relationships with his mother, his best friend and his beloved wife Sally. Then comes Amos's final, shattering story. Bookseller Inventory # B9780099449997

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