So I’ve just finished a new story, called ‘The Faber Book of Adultery’ and, as usual, I’ve kept open a Word file in which to paste sentences and paragraphs I’ve removed from the text, but which I like enough to think I might want to put back in at a later date. (I’m writing it with a word count in mind, so lots gets taken out, even as more is put in.) It occurred to me, reading the finished cuttings file, that they were more than random sheddings, and somehow told a shadow version of the story; and in that spirit I’m putting them on the website. In any case, if these were the darlings I killed for the sake of the story, then maybe this is better than the real thing.
Addendum: Of course it’s not better than the real thing! The real thing was published, in March 2013, in the inaugural issue of Lighthouse, a new journal from Gatehouse Press, and then anthologised in the Salt Best British Short Stories 2014. You can buy it here
Actually, I’ve got this fantasy, this book I’m going to edit. The Faber Book of Adultery. The joke being, I suppose, that the subject is so all-pervasive as to make the selection entirely otiose. It could be pages taken at random from any book, published ever. They’re all about adultery. A sweep of his arm, as if reading from a banner. The. Faber. Book. Of. Adultery. The Faber. Book of. Words.
That’s from the real thing. But, anyway, here is:
The Faber Book of Adultery (the out-takes)
He flicked the book open with his thumb to reveal the second photo, inside, of a barge on the Seine. Those low embankment walkways. That was where the true loucheness of Paris resided, he thought, in the flatness of the river water and the quays that boarded it. No overexcited tides, falling and rising, like the Thames.
A smile that seemed to acknowledge, and in some measure endorse, whatever it was that he was going to say next.
He leaned in, frowned. She’s the last person I’d ask, he said.
He felt the alcohol in his bloodstream, and the music rising and dipping behind the conversation, as if to validate it; unpicking the enzymes that went to make up and safeguard a normal life. Flirtation was a wonderful thing, and he was, he felt, quite good at it. Flirtation was all about the navigation of invisible boundaries and contours, but the line in the room that stood between him and his friend’s wife wasn’t acting like a line. It was humming, thrumming, expanding and contracting quite independently of the two of them, more a portal than a line. A zone, a liminality, all that stuff.
It was enough, certainly, to put an additional quickness of step into his walk home, arm in arm with his wife, and an extra twist of smug apology to the smile he gave the babysitter, as he handed her the thin folded wad of banknotes, for he wasn’t too drunk to bask in the thought that, at least – and unlike those Yank authors – he desired his own wife more than he did the babysitter.
He toyed with the idea, on and off, for a couple of weeks, without ever putting pen to paper. He never rushed to put pen to paper, but he was also being prudent. There was that Philip Roth novel, Deception, in which the author’s wife finds the manuscript describing his affair. Not to mention Humbert’s diary in Lolita.
The only real penwork that happened at this stage was in a list of possible character names he made in his notebook. Elizabeth, for instance, could easily be an Emma, but not a Mary. Could be a Charlotte, or a Lotte (Dutch? German?) but not a Jenny or a Gina. As for himself, it was important to push himself in an unfamiliar direction (Angus, Oscar, Orlando), if only so that the basic correspondences would have more heft, more believability.
to work out from incidental clues what their sex life was like: the stacking of the pillows, the painting above the bed, the angle of the full-length mirror in the corner of the room
People didn’t have that kind of relationship with books anymore. People read books for the gentle consolation they offered for the sad, true fact that they hadn’t become the sort of the people they’d thought they would by reading the books they did when they were younger.
telling himself he mustn’t let on he knew she was reading his book
But it had to happen in the kitchen. If they got back into the living room, with their drinks, they’d sit down, and he’d be back at square one.
Her arm, though, still on his. Her lips, the way she turned them from kissing things to smiling ones.
What he really wanted to think about now, which was only just occurring to him, while they were actually doing it, was how this kind of intense, almost mournful kissing, especially if you had your eyes closed when you were doing it, was analogous to the whole experience of coming to know somebody’s private, sexual self. It was a way of exploring and delineating a real physical space that was, perversely, hidden from view.