Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Jim Crace Reading from his Works

Hear British writer Jim Crace read from some of his prize-winning works, including the novel Being Dead, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Quarantine, the Whitbread Novel of the Year and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Crace provides an intro to each reading.

The Ransom Center acquired Crace's archive in the spring of 2008.

Unpublished, 2008

JIM CRACE: I'm going to take a big risk now and read from an unpublished book. And a book that I'm not sure is working or not. And the reason I'm not sure if it's working is that I've decided, late in my writing career, to leave my comfort zone, to not write about landscape, to not write in a fabulist, metaphorical way. But to write a book which is set in real places just because I think it would make a change. And whether this is a huge mistake or not, I do not know yet. However, the book is partly set in Austin, a town that I've grown to love immensely in the last few times I've visited it. And I hope to visit it again. So it is my version of Austin that'll show up in this book and it's briefly referred to in the opening paragraph of this novel, which is currently called Heroes but may well be called something else.

The hair is unmistakable—old-fashioned, Russian hair, swept back from the forehead, thickly and unusually abundant. Leonard stands on the rug a metre from the television screen to see more closely. The video footage is grainy and unsteady, purposefully amateur. The man reading the prepared statement in the curtained room does not mean to be recognised. Indeed, he has masked his face to the bridge of the nose with what appears to be a child's scarf. His voice, crudely distorted on the sound track, is childlike too. He wears sunglasses, defiantly unfashionable E-Clips, ten years old at least. The light beam from the camera is lasered at his chest and the lower half of his scarf, so that what little of the face can be seen —the ears, the eyebrows and the forehead—is under lit and ghostly. But still the hair is unmistakable.

Leonard sits. He stands to find the remote control. Sits again. He is breathless and it is with a shaking hand that he clicks open an on-screen toolbar, pastes a password, enters his Personal Briefcase, selects Menu, Archive, Album, Austin and waits for the file of photographs to download. A hundred or so chattering thumbnails peel out of the icon and tile across the desktop. It is easy to spot the group of images he wants. They are indoor shots, flash bright, and the only ones without an intense sapphire sky. That month in Texas had been almost cloudless. He highlights a single photograph and expands it. And there they are —the five of them—posing side by side in Gruber's Old Time BBQ, meat spread out across the table on butchers' paper, with polystyrene tubs of pinto beans and coleslaw, and a line of bottled Texan beer, so far untouched. The room is blue with smoke and—he remembers—blue with swearing. The archive date is 11-27-06. A bygone, unhygienic age. Such down-home eating isn't tolerated in restaurants anymore. It isn't even tolerated down-home. He zooms in on the man to the left of the photograph and drags the expanded image up the screen so that it is parked next to the newscast box. It is only a few minutes before the video segment is repeated and only a few seconds after it begins that Leonard is able to freeze an image of the masked face. Now he can compare. He cannot tell exactly what he hopes to find.

On the left, photographed without much care or interest eighteen years previously by the girl who cleared tables at Grubers, is Maxie the big-smiled American son of Russian immigrants. That much is certain. His black moustache and beard had been sparse and adolescent in those days. His hair, long on top, parted slightly to the right, had been swept back over his ears, with just a few loose strands. He'd looked—still looks here—like the teenage Stalin, in that famous early photograph that became the poster for the biopic in the late twenty-twenties, Young Steel, unfeasibly handsome and intense. And on the right, snatched from the newscast, there is the masked man, guarding his identity and filmed by whom?... a comrade, colleague, accomplice? Neither of the images is well-defined—a frozen, hazy video clip, and an over-expanded photo-detail, a mosaic of pixels. The evidence is blurry at best. But Leonard is convinced. These two images—separated by almost eighteen years—are of the same man—the same unusual denseness of head hair, the same swept-tundra look, the same wind-sculpted brow, the same off-centre widow's peak. No sign of balding yet, or grey. It's Maxie, then. Maxie Lermon. Maxim Lermontov.