I lay buried on a dusty velvet sofa, in a small room in a flat in a street in a city. Outside the window there was a tree cut through with telephone wires. I'd watched the tree go from skeleton to bud to leaf to skeleton for nearly five years. There was a street lamp shining which made the branches look like bones. Outside there were so many people that their smells and colours, movements and sounds blurred together.
I wondered if I moved to somewhere there were no people at all, that's what it would take for me to get well again.
My partner came into the room with a book. A blurred photographic bird whirred across the white sky of the cover. "You'll love this," she said. "It's incredible." Did I say thank you? I hope I said thank you.
She left the book in my hands. I ran my thumb over the word "remarkable" on the cover, as if reading in Braille. Opening the book, I read the first lines:
"If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings."
I sat up a little. Exhaled. Closed my eyes. Listened: outside a car drove past and sounded as if it was wheeling through water. The wind, caught in a tunnel of buildings. A voice, calling someone else's name. A child, running across the wooden floor upstairs. The kitchen, a metal spoon clinked in a mug. A hum, underneath all these sounds.
I opened my eyes and read on. "And the song sings the loudest when you pick out each note." By the end of the first paragraph I had tears in my eyes.
While reading this book, something inside me came back to life. It's a poem of a novel, built from the languages of senses: sounds, emotion, taste, colour and light explode. It's one day in a city painted across 275 pages.
The day is the same date that Diana died, but we look in another direction. We witness, in microscopic detail, the usually unnoticed lives of the people who live in one street. They are described in forensic brilliance - as if there's light shining onto them. In a world where celebrity is varnished gold, this novel shows us all the colours within rust.
After reading it, I opened a blank notebook and took the lid off a black pen. This book was distilled medicine. It made me want to write as if the world or I could end in a moment. When I went outside, I walked slowly and drank the singing city into my eyes.
Jess Richards's new novel is 'Cooking with Bones' (Sceptre)
- More about: