Good Reading : July 2006
‘Do you do any exercise?’ ‘Yes–no–’ ‘Do you have any kit?’ ‘ –myback–Ijustneed–tosit–’ ‘You do realise that this is an aesthetic profession?’ Ms Lee’s eyes were grey and dim, as though in principle unexercised by any sight, however dazzling or piteous. Pain, pleasure: they couldn’t feel either. Only the pupils, like balled ticks, rocked with spite. Alice moved to London when she was twenty-five and still a virgin. In a moment of involved weakness, she suggested to her sister, Martha, that they move in together. Alice was temping by day and finishing a post-graduate Acting Diploma at the Rudner–Beck Studio by night. Martha, newly graduated from Bristol University, hadn’t thought of living as far out as Putney, but in days was forced to admit that the area exceeded her expectations. It had all the right shops, and the boathouses were a walkable distance. On her early morning run, Landor Consulting’s blithest trainee waved hello to the oarsmen and breathed in the odour of damp tarpaulin and linseed oil.The basement flat Alice had found was small, so Martha bought a mirror to make it look bigger. Two weeks into her job, Martha confided in her elder sister that she’d had an audition at RADA and been given a recall. This was a surprise to Alice: Martha had shown no prior interest in the stage, with the possible exception of exotic cameos at student toga parties. In any case, the second audition was a disaster and Martha got a letter the next day. Alice sympathised – told her not to be in too much of a hurry – but Martha said she wasn’t giving up that easily, and wrote back to the panel informing them they’d made a seri- ous mistake. For her next recall, she cut her hair short, gelled it flat, wore a sleeveless black tunic with breast-cup seams and serenaded someone she dimly recognised from an Eighties cop show – Bergerac? – with ‘Everything Happens To Me’. She also did Hedda Gabler, and bustled about hitting herself on the forehead. There was another letter in the post the day after. The panel had been impressed. In view of the breadth and vigour of her re-audition, it read, the directors of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art were pleased to offer Martha Hutchings late entry to the present nine-term Acting Course, or a defer red place for the academic year 1995–6. ‘But, how?’ was all Alice could say, when she got home. Her pulse bucked like the drum of a top-loader. Martha sprinkled salt on half a beef tomato. She ate it with three fingers raised and fanned her other hand in front of her mouth. ‘Mmmm,’ she explained. ‘One of the girls in this year’s rep got kicked in the head last week. I don’t know. I don’t think she’s coming back.’ Lilian sent Martha flowers, and Ray mentioned the work- shop’s Breitkopf & Hartel – the one with the white box veneer – which he could always sell . . . At the same time, he wondered if Martha mightn’t be able to squeeze fees out of the Academy itself? But she couldn’t, so away went the piano to Kennards, where it was bought by an actor. ‘That’s a good sign,’ Martha remarked. Desire is an inference, badly drawn. It obeys a defective but inescapable logic. If one person wants a thing, Alice discovered, it means another must already have it. In order to have that thing, one must not want it; or at least not want it too badly. Because Martha had never laid claim to the stage – to the carnival camaraderie of Leichner Nos 3 and 5, to the Drama Club’s clattering tea-urn, to a signed copy of Year of the King – it followed that her entitlement to it could not be in dis- pute. What she did not lack, by definition she had. As much might have been said of Alice, as Dogberry, though here the logic grew wonderfully twisted. The shy elder sister did not want to be a lumpen absurdity, after all – but by God that’s what she was. Will Eaves was born in Bath in 1967 and lives in London. He is the Arts Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. His previous novel The Oversight (2001) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Best First Novel Award. Nothing To Be Afraid Of, described as ‘a tragedy of hope abandoned and innocence betrayed, but also an extravagant comic pageant of Shakespearean energy and compas- sion’, is published this month by Picador, rrp $22.00. BOOKBITE 52 goodreading ı JULY 2006 If one person wants a thing, Alice discovered, it means another must already have it. In order to have that thing, one must not want it; or at least not want it too badly.