Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Very Persistent Illusion by L C Tyler - extract

I've just finished A Very Persistent Illusion by L C Tyler which is not a crime novel unlike The Herring Seller's Apprentice and its sequel Ten Little Herrings (Aug. 09). It is equally as funny as The Herring Seller's Apprentice but is more of a tragic-comedy. Here are a few paragraphs from the first chapter.

A Long Way from Horsham,
18 April this Year

Women have many different ways of showing disapproval, only some of which are immediately apparent to men. A brief study of my girlfriend, who you will meet shortly, has revealed twenty-three quite distinct gradations of dissatisfaction. I have been obliged to catalogue them all. At some stage in the future, the Sorensen-Birtwistle Revised Scale of Girl-Rage will take its rightful place alongside the Richter Scale, the Beaufort Scale and other internationally recognized measures of danger. While mine lacks the precision of the Beaufort Scale, it has greater relevance for the man who does not get out much in hurricanes.

A Number Five, for example, is defined as a noticeable shaking of indoor items, accompanied by rattling noises, but without significant damage to whatever relationship your girlfriend believes you are in. A Number Four, which I sometimes fancifully visualize as dark cobalt storm clouds with blinding flashes of vermillion lighting, has the power to reduce grown men to jelly and can reputedly kill small mammals asleep in their burrows. And so on.

Fortunately, what is currently being pointed in my direction is only a Number Nineteen: a sort of grey swirling mist of discontent that mendaciously promises, from time to time, to part and reveal its true cause and origin. Not that I actually need the mist to part and reveal anything. The cause of this Number Nineteen is only too apparent (even to me). We are due at her parents’ house, which is still at least an hour’s drive away, at eleven thirty – and it is currently ten fifty-five according to the clock on the tasteful walnut dashboard of my classic sports car. In some way that will be explained to me shortly, this is All My Fault. The car ahead of us edges another couple of inches in the direction of Horsham and I slip smoothly into first gear and edge right along with it. The car ahead stops and I expertly bring the MG to a halt a fingerbreadth from its rear bumper. Handbrake on. A quick flick of the gearstick and we are back in neutral. Job done. I think she’ll be pretty pleased with that.

‘Brilliant,’ she says. ‘Ramming the car in front will save us at least half a second. You know, what I’d really like now is to have to stop and exchange insurance details with an enraged Rolls Royce owner whose car you’ve just run into while trying to gain a fraction of a millimetre in the queue. God, you’re an idiot.’

‘Bentley,’ I say knowingly.


‘It’s a Bentley ahead of us. And I quite deliberately didn’t run into it.’

I give her the knowing smile again. She gives me a quick burst of Number Seven, bordering on a mild Six. (Six is more severe than seven on the Sorensen-Birtwistle Revised, for reasons I’ll come to.) ‘God, you’re a idiot,’ she tells me.

‘I know. You already said. Twice. But thanks for addressing me as God, anyway.’

The traffic starts to move. The back of my hand brushes against her bare leg as I push the custom leather-clad gearstick to the left and forward. She pulls her leg away as if she has been stung, and smoothes her skirt down over it. In spite of the rather good God joke (see above), I am not in favour.

I am therefore unsurprised that there’s one of those funny little lulls in the conversation, as we stop and start and stop and start along East Hill. As we pass Wandsworth Town Hall I say: ‘That snail’s just overtaken us again.’ Then to clarify I add: ‘I said, that snail’s just—’

‘God, you’re an idiot.’

I don’t repeat my God joke because, I feel, if she didn’t find it that funny the first time, then it’s probably not going to do me much good this time either.

‘Looks like a nice day anyway,’ I venture cautiously.

‘For whom?’ My girlfriend is one of the only people I know who can deploy grammar as an offensive weapon.

‘The sun will be out in a moment,’ I say.

‘Lunch will be burnt in a moment too.’

Logically, and I’m sure you will agree with me, this is unlikely. If we are down to eat at twelve thirty (and we always are) it is improbable that her mother would judge things so badly as to have already burned the food by five past eleven. I decide not to point this out. My grandmother always said that it takes two to make a quarrel – but then she never met my girlfriend.

Read more here.

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