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Novel: The Myth of Exile and Return
Short synopsis and extract

The Myth of Exile and Return concerns a set of twins, Edward and Edmund, who are separated shortly after birth. Edmund eventually takes to his room, while Edward travels the world. However, they can communicate telepathically, so Edward’s ceaseless journeying is refracted through Edmund’s devious narration. This skewed perception asks the reader questions about the nature of reality and the power of fantasy, while the scrupulous and playful attention to the nuances of language make us wonder whether we can in actuality ever really communicate transparently and know anything with certainty.

 

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From The Myth of Exile and Return

By the time they reached Algeciras, to take a ferry to Tangier, she was tired, emotional and irritable. Not just from travelling all day, but for the past two and a half weeks. Or the past few years. They may have lain in the sun, but they had also moved around too much, more than was good for her. But lying around wasn’t always good either. He was gung-ho for going on, not showing much sympathy with her exhaustion. She grew more distant, moody and morose. How easy it is for me to advance lists of adjectives for what she was doing and how she was feeling, which are utterly inadequate, less than useless in their more than meaninglessness, when it comes to capturing in any way accurately what she really did and how she really felt. But what else can I do, or feel?
The town was thronged with Moroccans in transit, lugging unbelievable amounts of possessions. Our voyagers checked into a hotel close to the harbour, and promptly conked out, even though it was only three in the afternoon.
When he came to, it was still light outside, but he didn’t know exactly what time it was. The heavy smell of spicy meat cooking wafted up to their window, mixing with the stifling heat to make the atmosphere in their room pungently oppressive. That’s what happens when you’re still in the budget accommodation category: you get stuck above kitchens. His watch lay on a rickety table at the far end of the bed, but she was still in a deep sleep beside him, his arm trapped under her neck. He would feel bad if he woke her while trying to look at it.
A memory came back to him from their first days together. Cosseted in her apartment one weekend, they’d begun making love some time in the afternoon, and long after darkness had crept through the shutters, they’d decided to dress and go get something to eat. As they pulled back the covers, she suggested they bet on what time it was. He’d guessed eight, she’d wagered half-past. They were floored with surprise when they’d found it was twenty-past nine. Time would not stand so still for them for very much longer.
As he detached himself from her now, she shuddered awake, with a startled look on her face.
“Why could you not leave me as I was?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“You never mean to do anything,”
He leaned his hand across to caress her hair, but she pulled away from him, curling up into a foetal position, cuddling herself. They could not go on without having a showdown. Would it be a fight to the death? He summoned all his energy, indifferent to how hers was depleted.
“I suppose the reason I’m not keen on getting married,” he began haltingly, aware that hesitancy can, and often does, signify honesty, “is because I don’t think of you as my possession. Why should I bring you to an altar or a registry office, and make you promise your life away to me?”
While charming at twenty, Edward’s attitude might seem just a tad immature at thirty. He would be making promises too, after all, ones that he might not always feel like keeping. That’s how she saw it, anyway, as far as I can see.
“People belong to each other,” she told him. “We do. Or did.”
“Then why bother getting married?”
“Because I want to have a baby. You don’t, that’s why you won’t marry me.”
He didn’t point out that they didn’t need to get married to have a baby. Or that they could even get married without having to have one. But she always had been a good little lapsed Catholic girl, with the residue of a predilection for doing things the proper way that that inherited burden brings. Besides, what she said was true. The prospect of paternity, let alone parenthood, gave him the willies. Him as a father? He knew he was too selfish for looking after a child, the kind of responsibility, if he ever took it on, he’d want to take seriously, and not embark upon lightly. For now, he regarded kids, or ones he’d be burdened with bringing up, i.e. his own, as a needless vexation.
“You’re right,” he acknowledged.
“Then I wish you’d leave me alone. You don’t care about me.”
“Oh yes I do.”
“Then leave me,” she shouted emphatically, knowing that intensity can, and often does, betoken conviction.
She started weeping to herself as he closed the door. The sounds of her sobs reverberated while he disappeared down the stairs, haunting him for days afterwards. He was crying inside.

He went out and got maudlin drunk on red wine and brandy in a small bar down the road. A young Moroccan approached him for a light, and introduced himself as Mustafa. Though wary initially, Edward was too drunkenly lachrymose to keep his defences up for long. They fell into conversation, talking in a mixture of broken English and broken French.
Mustafa was in his early twenties, and dressed in a cheap leather jacket, blue jeans faded to white, and worn loafers. He sported a moustache that looked too old for his smooth, olive face, and lent him a slightly shifty air. Well-bevied himself, he began telling Edward that he was a migrant worker, going home to visit his family for the summer holidays. Apparently he was only one of about half a million Moroccans who drive across Spain every July and August, from the factories, farms and mines of France, Germany and the Low Countries. But he warned Edward off taking too romantic a view of all the colourful hustle and bustle that was going on in the port. His countrymen were often victims of discrimination during their journeys, ranging from the standard verbal abuse to outright violent attack and robbery.
Was there no getting away from blasted people and their bloody bigotry, anywhere you go in the world? But I shouldn’t prejudice you against people. I must be tolerant at all times, unlike them. Have I done people a great disservice, by constantly dissing and dismissing them? I think not. Hell is other people. Or rather, hell is the need for other people. Is this Edward talking here, or me?
Mustafa felt like getting all this off his chest. He was encouraged when he heard that Edward was Irish, believing he’d chanced on a fellow-sufferer. And why indeed was my brother (to say nothing of myself) not at all galled by injustice in his own native land? Well, he was younger then, and far-away oppressions always look greener. Not that that is any excuse. And maybe it did move him, and I have not noticed. Could it be that it may even have contributed to his leaving?
Long before they fell out of the bar at four in the morning, Eddie and Musty had become bosom buddies, and shared their troubles and woes, political and personal. They arranged to meet up again, later that day.
“You come stay with my family in Tangier. You bring your girl. I show you city.”
When he got back to the hotel she was gone. Vanished into the night, no note or nothing. He was too far gone to go looking for her at the bus or train stations. He flopped into bed, and slumped over into sleep.
He checked with the desk clerk next morning, but she had left no message, and no one had seen her leave. There was no point in phoning Paris, because she couldn’t have got back there yet. Rather than pursue her, he decided to keep his appointment with Mustafa. It might be a long time before he again had the chance to set foot on African soil.

 
 

 

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