Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy

Read an extract from Serious Sweet, the latest novel from A.L. Kennedy. Two characters pass through 24 hours that will change them forever in this novel of our times

Serious Sweet

She had an interest in damages, you might say: damages and gaps. They could both be educational.

She enjoyed the warm din of the foxes, the bloody-and-furry and white-toothed sound – it was intense and she appreciated intensity. This was her choice. In the same way, the Hill was her choice. The open dark had given her a clifftop feeling as soon as she came within sight of the big skyline. It provided the good illusion that she could step off from here and go kicking into space, swimming on and up. Below her, opened and spread, were instants and chains of light apparently hung in a vast nowhere, a beautiful confusion. It was easy to assume that London’s walls and structures had proved superfluous, been let go, and that only lives, pure lives, were burning in mid-air, floating as stacks of heat, or colour, perhaps expressions of will. What might be supporting the lives, you couldn’t tell.

Then, during the course of an hour, the sun had indeed pressed in at the east, risen, birds had woken and announced the fact, as had aeroplanes and buses, and the world had solidified and shut her back out. It was like a person. You meet someone at night and they won’t be the same as they will if you see them in daytime. Under the still-goldenish, powdery sky, buildings had become just buildings, recognizably Victorian in the foreground and repeating to form busy furrows, their pattern interrupted where bombs had fallen in the war. These explosive absences had then been filled with newer and usually uglier structures, or else parks. There were also areas simply left gapped. They had been damaged and then abandoned, allowed to become tiny wildernesses, gaps of forgotten cause. Rockets had hit in ’44 – V-1s and V-2s. Somewhere under the current library – which wasn’t council any more – there’d been a shattered building and people in pieces, dozens of human beings torn away from life in their lunch hour. It didn’t show. There was a memorial plaque if you noticed, but other human beings, not obviously in pieces, would generally walk past it and give it no thought.

She was the type, though, to give it thought. She had an interest in damages, you might say: damages and gaps. They could both be educational.

Other places were more peaceable. She could pick out church spires and the cream-coloured Battersea chimneys of what had been the power station. Further off, thin trains pushed themselves to unseen destinations and details blurred. The far distance raised up shapes, or hints, or dreams of impossible coasts, lagoons and mountains. Mirages crept out from under the horizon. And somewhere, the crumpled shape of the Thames hunched along invisibly towards the coast.

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