Today is my stop on the Address Book by Neil Bartlett book tour and I’m sharing a book extract with you.
Before the extract I’ll leave this quote from the publisher:
In November 2021, Inkandescent will publish Address Book by Neil Bartlett, the new mosaic novel by the Costa- shortlisted author of Skin Lane. This cycle of stories takes us to seven very different times and situations: from a new millennium civil partnership celebration to erotic obsession in a Victorian tenement, from a council-flat bedroom at the height of the AIDS crisis to a doctor’s living-room in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, they lead us through decades of change to discover hope in the strangest of places.
Editor Nathan Evans says, ‘I’ve loved Neil’s writing since finding his first book in the university library, so to publish his latest is something of a dream for me. Inkandescent are proud to be working with such an important queer writer with so much to say about where we are and how we got here.’ Neil says, ‘Every place that I’ve ever slept in, I’ve always wondered about what went on at that address before I moved in. To write this book, I went back to some significant places in my own life and let the walls talk to me. The result of that listening is this new cycle of stories.’
Now I leave you with the wonderful extract:
It’s August, and hot, and although the trees outside this particular bedroom are tall and shadowy, someone has still felt the need to screen what is about to happen in here from view; in order to achieve that, they’ve stretched a thin cotton Indian-print bedspread right across the window. You can still see where the hammer and tacks that were used to accomplish this task have been left scattered across the carpet. The room seems very still, after that particular noise, and the sunshine filtering in through the warm rust-and-black colours of the bedspread is turning its air into one ruddy, red-gold solid.
In the middle of this warm cube of colour, two men are standing facing each other across a bare and rather dirty-looking mat-tress. This mattress lies directly on the floor, with its head against a wall, and the men are measuring the distance it creates between them with their eyes. As it happens, they are both half-undressed already. They seem to have reached some kind of an impasse in their choreography for just a moment, but then—quite unexpectedly—the younger and slightly shorter of the two makes a very definite move; he stoops, unlaces his shoes, and removes his socks; he then shucks off his trousers and underpants in one smooth and beautiful gesture. The older man attempts to follow suit, but when the moment comes for him to slip down his own underwear he feels obliged to turn around and present his back. Then he seems to pause for a moment, taking some apparently much-needed time to gather himself together before he turns back round to face his partner. When he does turn, his body is visibly thinner than the younger man’s, and more worn; you can see every one of his sixty-two years, even though the light in this room seems determined to be kind. Both of the men are sweating already, because of the day’s heat.
The staring between them continues for some time, but then—eventually—something moves again. It is a hand, this time—and now the shorter of the two men, the bloodily-haired one, steps forward onto the mattress and places this reaching hand of his first on the other man’s arm, and then onto his left shoulder. When he feels this hand, the older man smiles, but still only with half of his mouth. He closes his eyes. The redhead, sensing that he must proceed very gently, moves his lips and face forwards in order to plant the softest of kisses on the other man’s mouth. This kiss seems to be a question; eventually—and quietly—it receives a reply.
Once down on the mattress, their limbs seem to fit together quite well. Things move slowly, in this heat—but now, the questions being asked are no longer quite so tentative or gentle. Neither are their answers; the two men’s eyes meet quite often now, closing only when they must, and when a head tips back or turns away it is not now with avoidance or refusal. When the time comes for more noise, the air of the room seems to absorb it all quite easily. For one of the two men the sounds that he is making turn unstoppably into tears, but fortunately his partner holds him tight when this happens, and lets the crisis pass without comment.
By the time they have both come, it is quite late in the after-noon, and the parti-coloured light that is still seeping through the bedspread has shifted several feet around their impromptu bedroom’s walls. Both of their bodies are properly slicked with sweat now, and smeared with stripes of dust, and as they lie there side by side and stare up together at the ceiling—both of them feeling quite hollowed-out and silent now, as if they were lying together on some abandoned beach, listening perhaps to the waves of some distant and still-retreating tide—their bodies are contoured in several shades of a vivid and surprising colour. The light which is sculpting the face of the red-head discovers a line of pure carmine on the crest of both his cheekbones; his companion’s skin takes the colour more gently. Again, a hand reaches out, and again it finds another. The red-head, who is on the right-hand side of the bed, turns, and it is he who begins the necessary conversation. ‘Shall we do names, then?’ he asks.
The older man keeps his eyes on the ceiling, and there is a considerable pause. When he finally does speak, you can still hear in his voice a record of all the weeping that he has just done, together with traces of all the other noises. ‘Roger,’ he says, hoarsely. ‘I’m called Roger.’
‘Hello Roger. My name’s David.’ ‘Hello.’
There is a further silence here, quite a long one, and then the red-haired man tries again. ‘I really needed that,’ he says, quite cheerfully. ‘How about you?’ And then there is yet another silence—but the questioner persists. ‘Are you alright, my friend?’ he says.
What are your thoughts on the extract? Let me know in the comments!
Make sure to check out the trailer for the book by clicking H E R E.
*You can also find the book here: Foyles, Gay’s The Word and the Inkandescent website.
***I am in no way compensated by these sites. I am simply sharing it so people can find this book easier.
Neil Bartlett has been an acclaimed and pioneering voice in British queer culture since the 1980s. His first novel, Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (written in a council flat on the Isle of Dogs), was Capital Gay’s Book of the Year 1990. It went on to be translated into five European languages, and was recently republished by Profile as a Serpent’s Tail Classic. His second novel, Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, was nominated for the Whitbread Prize in 1996, his third, Skin Lane, was shortlisted for the Costa Award in 2007, his fourth, The Disappearance Boy, earnt him a nomination for Stonewall Author of the Year 2014. Neil is also a maker of rule-breaking performance and theatre. After a controversial early career, he was appointed Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith in 1994 and, in recognition of his work there, was awarded the O.B.E. in 2000. Since leaving the Lyric in 2005, he has created work for major cultural producers including the National Theatre, the RSC, the Manchester Royal Exchange, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Wellcome Foundation, Artangel, Tate Britain—and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.