My obsession begins in the magical year 1967, at Luce and the Photons’ legendary last secret gig.
That night changes my life: I must know who Luce is. But the deeper I dig, the more questions I turn up. Is Luce a rock star or a pretender? An artist or an acid trip?
My redemption . . . or my delusion?
Drawn into the machinations of mysterious powers, I become the dark shadow who follows the light of Luce. But who follows me? Are they agents of evil or figments of my imagination? And do they follow me still?
The quest for Luce will lead me to the farthest corners of the earth and into the deadliest danger. I will lose everything and everyone I love . . . except for Luce.
Who is pawn and who is player? Murderer or victim? Betrayer or saviour?
I am the only one who knows the truth.
This is the truth.
This is The Book of Luce.
Some might find it offensive that I, of all people, should write the story of Luce. Others may find it ironic. It may well be both, but it is also the completion of the task I began fifty years ago. It has always been my life’s true purpose, though they did their damnedest to convince me that Luce was just a figment of my deranged imagination. And, to survive, I did my damnedest to persuade them that I believed them. I did this so well that I almost forgot. But now I have been called again; I have received Signs.
I won’t pretend to be an ordinary biographer. I’m not sure I can be any more objective about my subject – or should that be object? – than about myself. But if Luce’s story is tangled with mine it can only be because Luce wanted it that way.
I’ll never know why they finally decided to deport me. What I took for yet another chapter in the long-running saga of my persecution by the obtuse officials of the Nevada State Council for Adult Offender Supervision seems to have spirited me back to my old life, my Real life, my life with Luce. The door that I’ve spent more than half of my life pretending toignore has opened and, like a rogue joker sneaking out of the pack during the course of a fumbling card trick, I’ve returned to myself at last.
Maintaining an attitude of utter compliance and mild, baffled disinterest in my circumstances has been an essential part of my strategy for so long that if anyone bothered to tell me exactly where I was to go, I paid no heed. Back to England, back to England, that was all I knew. I didn’t let myself think about it. Never betray interest. Play dead. My brother had made arrangements, they said; it was meant to be reassuring.
What with jet lag and shock at so much change in such a short time, not to mention the temazepam I took to get through the flight, I was a bit out of it when I arrived last night. It had all been a blur: car, airport, aeroplane, airport, come with us please, car, roads, a building, sign in please, stairs, this way please. A door, a flat: my flat. Good night.
The first thing I did was open a window. It was raining hard – good, serious English rain. The rain of home. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it, trapped for all these years in dry and dusty Nevada. I let the dark drops wash my face.
The building looked out over what I, in my muddled state, took for a lake; across the expanse of black water was a house with many windows glowing. I blinked and squinted through the rain. Could it be? My God, of all the places to have ended up. The poignancy of it nearly killed me. It was Farundell, where Luce first initiated me into his mysteries, long before I knew who she was. Over the decades it had apparently been swallowed up in some kind of ghastly suburban sprawl.
Of course I was wrong; it wasn’t Farundell. (I’m in Enfield, as it turns out. Enfield! And not just Enfield, but an obscure district on its western edge called, with stupendous aptness, World’s End.) The lake, the house – it was a brief trick of the light, or maybe a trick of Luce. Before long the rain slackened, the air cleared, delusion receded. I beheld a wide black slick of tarmac, not a lake. A car park, deserted, and beyond it a smattering of streetlights, not a house. But in that sudden recognition, mistaken though it was, something jolted in me, shook itself, unfurled creaky, neglected wings, rose and lifted itself out into the night to soar and dance among the softly raining stars above Farundell, above a dark island and a chamber darker still. And last night I dreamed the Dream again, the one I’d almost forgotten. The Dream of the Cavern. I woke with the feeling of the thread in my hand. That thread, so long lain lax, is tightening. I know it’s a Sign.
The second Sign arrives with my brother. It isn’t Neil himself, of course, but what he brings, unasked-for, un-heralded. He’s a bit early; I’m not quite prepared and the knock on my door sends a jolt of anxiety through my nerves. I straighten my clothes, smooth my hair and open the door.
‘Hey Weirdo,’ he says.
He’s changed remarkably little: fatter, balder, an extra chin or two. It is the immense blandness of his face (a feature, or should I say a lack of feature, apparent from infancy) that has always bothered me the most, and it’s hard to forget that for many years I believed he was a demon-simulacrum, not a real human being at all.
‘Good to see you,’ he says. ‘Glad you’re back. Yes. Glad you’re back. So . . .’ His eyes slide this way and that; he doesn’t know where to look.
‘It’s this one.’ I point to my right eye. ‘This is the glass one.’
‘Oh, right. Sorry.’ He makes that shrug, that little wince of repugnance I remember so well. It always had the capacity to enrage me with its implication of distaste and disdain that he was too polite (or cowardly) to express openly. Now his attitude has a sound basis in history; when we were children, it was pure instinct. Dear old Arsehole. We just don’t get along.
‘Thanks for arranging all this.’ My gesture endeavours to convey my gratitude for the grandeur of these lino-floored, woodchip-wallpapered three hundred and sixty-six square feet. (I paced it out last night.)
‘No problem. Glad I could help. Yes. Glad to be of use. So . . . you all right, then? Good journey? How was the flight? Get a decent meal? How do you like this place? Pretty nice, huh? Everything you need. You always were for the simple life.’
Is this a snide reference to the massive complication I made of my life? Just because I’m criminally insane, I want to say, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid. But it does, it does. I play stupid as if my life depends upon it. I make my face smile.
He looks around, rubs his hands. ‘It’s not bad, is it? Not bad at all. Gets the morning sun. Little kitchen, nice. Cosy bedroom, en-suite. Comfy bed? Good. Nice people, too, don’t you think? Oh, by the way, thought you’d like . . . we brought that stuff you left in the attic. Some boxes, remember? Years, long time ago. From before . . . well, you know. We thought it might help you feel at home, to have your old things.’
My teeth have been grinding of their own accord. I have always found Neil’s chummy, pseudo-familial familiarity grating in the extreme. I say pseudo because he is not, Deo gratias, my real brother. I was adopted shortly before he was conceived; my presence in the ‘family’ as a second-best and not-really-needed-after-all appendage has always been awkward for him and for the parents. This awkwardness was only exacerbated by the fact that he, the younger, was very soon much the bigger – physically if not morally. While maintaining a fond and patronising demeanour in public, in private he used the crude advantage of size to subject me to innumerable indignities. My superiority in the intellectual sphere, which I could never fully conceal, did not mitigate his hostility. Quite the reverse.
We go downstairs. Something begins to tickle at my mind through the sticky, gritty cloud of my irritation with Neil. I’m getting the first inkling that an event of possible significance may be waiting, concealed in this mild April morning. Stepping outside, bright sunshine stings my eyes. Luce, I think, and hear a sort of hum in reply. My heart starts to pound.
Neil’s parked in front. He has one of those vast, shiny contraptions that look like they could scale the Himalayas before breakfast, except they’d rather not get their skirts dirty. That must be his wife in the driver’s seat, talking on the phone. Rather a lot of make-up for a woman of her age who’s not – as far as I know – a professional whore. And she’s obviously on the Botox. It’s like she’s wearing a hypothetical face. No wonder I thought she was a simulacrum, too. Still talking, she waves cheerily to me like we last saw each other day-before-yesterday. What’s her name? I never remember her name. Oh yeah, Dot. Ridiculous name for a woman.
‘Hi Dot,’ I say.
‘Jesus, Weirdo. This is Cindy. My. Wife. Cindy.’ Neil gives me a look that says he knows – and wants me to know he knows – that I do this sort of thing deliberately. I don’t.
Neil thinks I’m being sarcastic. ‘Back a day and already impossible.’
‘I’m glad not to be changed beyond recognition, then,’ I say, immediately chastising myself for the slip into acerbity.
He opens the back of the car. His attempt to make a tetchy gesture of it is foiled by the hydraulics, which lift the door ever so gently, emitting a sedate hiss. Boxes, five or six boxes. But could it be? Oh my God. I recognise it. I think I do. That small one at the back. Yes! Would he have brought it if he’d known what it was? Certainly not. Would I have dared ask for it? I assumed he’d destroyed everything long ago. It’s what demons do.
Treasure, long-hidden treasure. Going incognito, pretending to be an ordinary box, one of several, nothing special. Scuffed, corners squashed, bound with packing tape, now brittle and peeling, and green sisal twine. The address label has fallen off but I remember that twine, how it left green streaks on my scared, sweaty hands as I tied it up. The box seems to glow from within – I sincerely hope no one else can see that. It’s Luce’s box. This is the second Sign.
My face never gives anything away. ‘Oh, thanks,’ I say. ‘Wonder what’s here. I forgot all about this stuff.’
We carry the boxes to my flat, where they take up most of the space in the sitting room. Neil leaves, what a relief, mercifully declining my offer of a cup of tea. It’s just me and the boxes now: me and my past. Dear God, let me not become one of those pathetic, repulsive old people who shuffle about in a narrow space crowded to death by stacks of newspapers and the mouse-infested relics of their long-dead lives.
Two boxes contain miscellaneous stuff, including some wonderful old clothes: my floppy fedora with the peacock feather, a silk scarf with an Aubrey Beardsley print that Charlie gave me, a green velvet jacket from the King’s Road, an Indian-print shirt from Haight-Ashbury. Others contain books – I’ll deal with them later. They served their purpose: the flock of sheep that smuggled in the goat.
I turn at last to Luce’s box. I had never dared to hope it would come back to me; I’d grown accustomed to the idea that my past was non-existent, in any reliable way. And now I have a flash of doubt. Might this be the work of a demon of False Hope? Cunning little buggers, but I thought I’d extinguished them years ago. All I have is my memory of the green twine and the stains it left on my hands. I look at them; obviously they’re not green any more. And the glow I saw in the back of Neil’s car? I might have imagined that. If I see it now, it’s only wishful thinking.
I get impatient with myself. This box either is or isn’t what I think it is. My past is either dead or alive; like Schrödinger’s cat, it is both and neither until the box is opened. Do I truly want to know? Oh for fuck’s sake. Open the damn thing. Cut the twine, peel away the packing tape. Open the box.
I have to sit back and take a deep breath. This is it, this is it, this is it! Tears come to my eyes. I feel like a resurrected corpse. With trembling hands I unpack the treasures, untouched for all these years: my draft manuscript of The Book of Luce, plus notebooks and files, interview tapes and transcripts, articles, diaries and journals, newspaper clippings, letters. The records of my search for Luce, the testimonies of the witnesses. Here is René, here is Karen, and here, oh here, is Rachel. I’m half afraid all this will disintegrate like ancient bones in a too-suddenly unsealed tomb. Here’s my original Human album; here is L’Age Atomique, a priceless rarity, perhaps the only one in the world.
Thank you, I say. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
At the bottom, an old box of Gitanes, Luce’s brand and therefore my own, when I can get them. It must have fallen out of my pocket as I packed. All unsuspecting, I open it.
It’s full of rose petals, but they’re not dry or faded. They spill onto the table, soft and fresh and sublimely fragrant. They cannot possibly have fallen from the flower more than an hour ago. I put the box down and back away. Owing to the modest dimensions of the room, I cannot back very far. I close my eyes, count to a hundred. I open my eyes. The rose petals are still there, blithely emitting their rapturous impossibility. It’s the third Sign. I make myself a strong cup of tea.
These three Signs have convinced me that the time has come to write The Book of Luce. Contrary to popular opinion, including my own, it would appear that I am not ashes on the dust-heap of history. My life in the Real world, so long an underground river running deep beneath the polluted realm of mundane Earth and the semi-conscious parasites who inhabit its surface, has emerged.
My mission is now clear: to fulfil my task, to tell the story of Luce. And his mission? Will I ever know? Was she Messiah, Avatar, Bodhisattva? A Superhuman, the long-awaited Nietzschean Übermensch? Was he the first of a new type of human, and will we all be like her one day? Or was he a fluke, an accident, a random confluence of powers and perceptions, a freak, a genetic quirk, merely the greatest artist of all time? As I assemble these fragments of her life and work, as I line them up, put them in order, draw arcs of influence and association, cause and effect, as I try to make the dull-minded world understand . . . surely I will find the real Luce at last.
So wake up, Chimera Obscura! I summon you to remember. Here you come, stepping out of the shadows: a ghost in green velvet, a peacock feather in your hat. Go forth, beautiful one! Go forth and remember.
Thanks to Jenni Leech for arranging this blog tour!