A pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Weighing Of The Heart by Paul Tudor Owen, published by Obliterati Press in March 2019, available for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksTours for the invitation and support – with an apology that this was yet another book that it was just impossible to fit into my reading list. But this book might just appeal to you as much as it did to me…
Following a sudden break-up, Englishman in New York Nick Braeburn takes a room with the elderly Peacock sisters in their lavish Upper East Side apartment, and finds himself increasingly drawn to the priceless piece of Egyptian art on their study wall – and to Lydia, the beautiful Portuguese artist who lives across the roof garden.
But as Nick draws Lydia into a crime he hopes will bring them together, they both begin to unravel, and each find that the other is not quite who they seem.
Paul Tudor Owen’s intriguing debut novel brilliantly evokes the New York of Paul Auster and Joseph O’Neill.
So no review this time, but I have an extract to share – from Chapter 8…
I began to be troubled by a recurring dream in which Lydia and I were looking for a lost ring on the boat from Boston to Provincetown. We couldn’t find it anywhere, and the dream always ended with Lydia heading off to search for it in another part of the boat and then disappearing completely, at which point I would wake up, usually quite upset. The dream had some basis in reality; I had actually once travelled on the ferry from Boston to Provincetown, but not with Lydia, with Hannah. We had flown up to Boston for a few days’ holiday soon after getting together, a successful trip that had helped us cement our developing relationship.
Hannah had told me beforehand that I would probably find Boston quite a European-looking city, with antiquated buildings and illogical higgledy-piggledy streets and so on, and it was true that there was a handsome old brickwork bridge over the Charles River that wouldn’t have looked out of place in London or Berlin, and that the seventeenth-century graveyard where Paul Revere is buried is enjoyably untidy and disordered. But in my opinion the city still had the unmistakeably tough and unsentimental tang of America, that feeling that if an eighteen-wheel truck making an important delivery needed to get to a depot one day the residents would quite happily demolish the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to let it through, and concrete over Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace to give it a bit of space to turn round.
Hannah had laughed at that. She’d found my sense of humour a real novelty when we first met, which had been very flattering. She asked where else I had visited in America so far.
“Nowhere, really,” I said. “It’s New York I like.”
“I’ll have to take you down to Johnstown one day,” she said. “My hometown. Johnstown, Pennsylvania: that is one nook of America you will not want to miss out on. In Johnstown we have the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane. No kidding.”
“Are your parents still there?” I asked her.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “They, like, practically run the place. My dad was like the mayor for fifteen years. His family were in the steel business and everything, way back. In the nineteenth century our company was the world’s leading producer of barbed wire. That’s another Johnstown fact. Hey. You asked.”
“Are they… are they wealthy then?” I asked. (I had found Americans to be much less wary of questions like this than the British.)
She shrugged. “I don’t know… I mean look at this ring.” She showed me the ring her parents had given her for her birthday. We were tucked into a corner of a café by the window and it caught the warm rays of the late spring sunshine as she turned it this way and that. “They’re always giving me things like this.” She looked doubtfully around at the other customers. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it on this trip.”
“You brought it to Arna Tambor’s degree show in that parking lot under the Williamsburg Bridge the other night,” I said.
“That’s true,” she said. We were always going to degree shows in parking lots under the Williamsburg Bridge in those days.
We sat in silence for a little while, enjoying each other’s company and our surroundings. It’s always exciting at the beginning of a new relationship and I remember feeling happy to have invited her on this long weekend and looking forward to taking her back to our hotel that night. The coffee machine hissed and the hubbub of voices around us waxed and waned and waxed again. Across the road I could see floors of high-rise office life winding down for the day, four o’clock on a Friday, office staff marking time, the working week spinning slowly to a close. Girls sat perched on their friends’ desks, reeling the evening in with a leisurely loop of conversation. I poured milk into my tea and it rushed up from the bottom and flooded to the surface, and we spent an agreeable few minutes sipping our drinks and watching a young driver trying to parallel park in an incredibly tight space right in front of the café. As so often in such cases, a number of men of various ages, races and social backgrounds immediately materialised from shops and residential buildings nearby in order to ‘help’ him. “It’s a tricky spot,” I said generously to Hannah as he continued to struggle.
“He should have asked me,” replied Hannah.
“Are you good?” I asked.
“Parallel parking? I’m the master,” she said. “Once I pulled off this really tough spot in front of my dad – I felt like his son or something.” I laughed, and kissed her on the cheek.
We took the fast ferry out to Provincetown the next day, one and a half hours each way, out across the mouth of Cape Cod Bay, the arm of the peninsula sticking way out into the Atlantic, flexing its biceps, and as we walked along the dunes on the northern headland, buffeted by the ocean winds, I found myself, most unusually, thinking of England, staring out into the haze of blue sky and blue sea overlapping white at the horizon. Most of the time, in Manhattan, surrounded by New York on all sides, the subway below me, the skyscrapers above me, it was hard to believe England still existed. But here I felt I could almost see it, out east across the thousands of miles of ocean following the curve of the earth. Unsettled, I closed my eyes and turned away, and the feeling soon dissipated. We sat on a bench beside clapboard houses eating ice creams, looking at lighthouses and weighing up whether or not to climb the Pilgrim Monument, a gust of wind or a passerby forcing flocks of gulls up into the sky at intervals with a brisk beat of wings.
That night on the way back to Boston we stood at the prow of the boat holding tight to the white front rail as the blisteringly powerful headwind tore through our hair and billowed up our clothes like sails. It felt reckless to be facing the elements head-on like that; it felt like the wind would only have to twist slightly one way or another and we would be flicked up and off the deck and would vanish for ever in the blur of the sea. A storm was gathering ahead of us, over Boston, and we watched as it circled and swooped over the silhouetted city until after an ominous pause it began to strike the buildings with sharp and terrifying bursts of lightning.
“Oh, God, did I drop it?” she said suddenly.
“What?” I asked. She was looking at her hands.
“My ring – did I drop it?” She stepped back from the rail and looked down at the deck. “The wind – did the wind catch it?” she said.
I began to look around. Hannah leant over the rail and stared apprehensively into the churning, roiling swell of the ocean. We looked all around the prow, and then retraced our steps around the boat, with increasing pessimism. “I definitely had it when I got on the boat, because I took it off when I washed my hands in the bathroom,” she said.
“Did you definitely put it back on?”
“I did, I remember I did,” she said. “But I’ve checked in there anyway and it’s not in there.” I asked the barman if he would let us know if anything was handed in, and left him my phone number, but I don’t think either of us felt very hopeful. Just before the boat reached Boston, Hannah and I returned to the prow and she gazed sadly overboard. “It must have come off when we were holding the rail,” she said. “It must have come off my finger. It was never a very tight fit, on my finger. It must have dropped off into the sea. Oh dear. Mom will be disappointed.”
“Oh dear,” I said, pulling her into the circle of my arm. To cheer her up I took her out that night to a very well-reviewed seafood restaurant in the North End, and by the end of the evening she had almost forgotten about it. And I thought I had too; after all, it was many years ago now. But perhaps sometimes these memories are buried closer to the surface than we think.
Very much my kind of read, I think… thank you Paul, and wishing you every success with this one.
About the author
Paul Tudor Owen was born in Manchester in 1978, and was educated at the University of Sheffield, the University of Pittsburgh, and the London School of Economics.
He began his career as a local newspaper reporter in north-west London, and currently works at the Guardian, where he spent three years as deputy head of US news at the paper’s New York office.
His debut novel The Weighing of the Heart is published by Obliterati Press and has been nominated for the People’s Book Prize 2019 and the Not the Booker Prize 2019