'La Dolce Vita' a novel by Guy Martyr 1.
‘La Dolce Vita’ a novel by Guy Martyr
Author’s note, on the occasion of its publication, in instalments, on www.guymartyr.com website blog, September 2020.
Around 1998/99, after years of writing short, well, very short stories, I was moved to attempt a longer work of fiction - a novel. I had in my head, from where I don’t know, the first sentence: ‘ “RATTY, DARLING, YOU’VE HAD A PAPER . . .” read the personal communicator glimpsed at Horatio Smith’s waist. ‘ introducing a (near) future where paper letter communication is rare, cars drive themselves and people have multi-purpose personal ‘communicators’. The gestation of the work being just prior to the technological explosion heralding smartphones and digital communication, some of the references to technology in the piece seem, to contemporary view, a bit clunky. But to me this friction does not interfere with the direction or impact of the piece.
The title is loaded: it came to me naturally with the scene involving the delivery of trees by helicopter, in chapter 2. It was a working title that stuck - probably because, by the time I finished writing ‘La Dolce Vita’ for me the book and the title lived as one.
I have tried to present something of the world of the piece through language solecisms; I was influenced probably by ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘Brave New World’ - I read these decades ago and have little surface memory, but they are in there somewhere. I was concerned not to over-do this ‘architecture’: I tried to balance the formal creation of the world of the book, with the natural telling of the story.
‘La Dolce Vita’ was finished in 2000. I sought publication over subsequent years without gaining any interest. On occasions I have looked at it again: it always seems to live; so I have decided to publish it in instalments on my website blog.
Even through the maturing filtration of twenty years, it remains a work I believe in, and for which I have affection.
Publication schedule: ‘La Dolce Vita’ is novella length; I aim to publish one instalment a week over twenty weeks; instalments will be announced on my Twitter account @guymartyr .
Guy Martyr, Worcester, UK, September 2020
A myth of England.
Setting: the near future; London, Sussex, the north and elsewhere.
Background: war/terrorism at home and abroad; rising water; hovering fascism.
Foreground: human struggles; a kind of love story and self-discovery story.
Characters: Horatio Smith, architect; Victoria, wife of Horatio – a class difference exists; her parents; his boss, the ‘ever jovial and very switched on’ Jack Wylie; Horatio’s brother Dave and his wife Dorothy, who live on a farm; a small platoon of men met in (national) Service, amongst whom David, a strange, weasely character, and Sergeant Sparrow, a city boy, from Edmonton; Catherine Stanby, York ‘Area Commander’.
We begin when Horatio, living in London, receives his call up to Service; will it be Fighting, or will it be Drains? If it is Fighting, who will it be against? No one seems to know. Horatio has been working on the new ‘Transitional Habitation Programme’, a scheme meant to reflect new opportunities, new freedoms – or is it? Between idealism and reality, things fall to the floor.
The scene becomes set as he leaves his (bored) wife, to travel to a training camp in Staffordshire – not before we have seen Horatio and Victoria out for an evening walk getting some ‘walking points’ on their Credit, perform their duty as ‘Police Actioners’ in apprehending a ‘perp’ stealing a carriage; and have met Dave and Dorothy up from Sussex, having been kept waiting for hours at London border while their passes were checked, on a mission to procure drainage workers for the farm – “the water level won’t stop rising”.
Horatio and Victoria seem to drift apart during his absence, a circumstance aided by Victoria’s mother, disapproving of her daughter’s match. Horatio is sent hither and thither during his Service, with gaps at home in between. The couple learn more about each other and about themselves – Victoria especially, somehow moved to realise herself at last, a process which includes an ill-advised affair with Horatio’s boss. Ah, Mr Wylie! Jovial, or unhinged megalomaniac? As if orchestrating the ‘Birmingham tree clearances’ were not enough (“we need order”), what sinister aim really lies behind the Transitional Habitation Programme? Just don’t be unwise enough to find yourself in ‘Sector 15’!
While Horatio fetches up on Dave’s muddy farm, in the desert, in a cave in Derbyshire, Victoria is co-opted into the movement of Fashion Fascists, has luxurious lunch with Mr Wylie, and ends up with ‘Privilege Class 1’ Status. Status? How does that work? Who knows, but having a purloined ‘all files identity allocation disc’ certainly helps – and Horatio, or is it Victoria, are kind of presented with one by the ever more astonishing David.
Throw in a trip to ‘The Centre’, the biggest Shopping Info-musement complex in the Continent, a recounting of Horatio’s earlier visit to India to learn from ‘guru le Korbu’, Victoria’s being led astray with the help of narcotic drinks in dodgy clubs, and Dave’s defiance of ‘Invention Planning’ laws to make a, well what is it? in the shed, as well as Horatio’s confrontation with Wylie’s terrible mission, and you have something of this short, serious-hearted, comic? book.
'La Dolce Vita'
England, the near future . . .
“- - - RATTY, DARLING, YOU’VE HAD A PAPER - - -“ read the personal communicator, glimpsed at Horatio Smith’s waist. He had felt the vibration: emergency signal; Victoria! Damn! The flash of irritation brought on by this sudden disturbance to his train of thought at work betrayed his wife’s affectionate moniker. He reined himself in, making a mental note to try that anger management disc again, and wondered what the Paper could herald; something was surely due; perhaps life had been a bit too easy lately . . .
He swiped himself off site, got into his carriage, and logged on: a few quick negotiations on a neat new web site got him enough fuel tax quota to start, and the transit system slotted his carriage neatly into the conveyor lane.
He sat back to read on-screen: ‘The Journal of Building’; its headline ‘The Temporary Housing Boom Continues . . . ‘
Horatio picked the pale cream envelope off the table, and hunted for an implement with which to open it: his wife offered him a fruit knife which he used to messy effect - Papers were a rare thing these days, but important enough to be read straight away.
“I’ve been called up.” He looked at Victoria, resigned; she, slightly ruffled:
“Daddy might be able to do something.”
“No; I have to go; it’s my duty.”
“Six months. I'm to report on Wednesday.”
“Six months! . . . Oh, it’s too bad! Simon and Caz have been planning a dinner party; and we were going to spend the weekend with Mummy and Daddy . . . “
“Darling, Vicki, I might have to go and Fight . . . “
“It’ll only be Drains; I know it’ll only be Drains: Jeremy works in Resource Allocation; his wife Juliet has just been called up; he says it’s just Drains.”
“I’ll do whatever I have to. It’s for the good of us all.”
Horatio opened his personal screen to negotiate his release from work. Luckily, they had just gone Public; if his Paper had come last week, during their three days as a Private enterprise, he would have had to work his notice - he might lose a Service start date and become non-Productive (he just wasn’t feeling in the mood to attend any Compulsory Creativity class). Now, as a Public enterprise, he could step across into Service. He hoped his job would be Public when he returned - if he returned . . . Horatio suddenly felt fear at the prospect of Fighting: he didn’t want to die; he was young; he had work to do . . .
Who might the Fighting be for? Who against?
The news reports seemed so ambiguous.
He tried the Service swap sites - nothing doing - everyone was trying to get out of Fighting. At least if you Fight, you can negotiate some Training time. He went to his cv, to see whether anything could be tweaked to make him appear more pathetic; but his cv had already been taken.
Finally, he took receipt of his reporting details: Leek, Staffordshire; Training centre; no assignment details released; no private transport permitted. It smelt ominous . . .
That evening, the euphoria of change gave way to a swelling of the earlier seed of fear.
“Let’s go for a walk, Vicki.”
“A walk? . . . Yes, all right; I could do with some walking points on my Credit.”
They found suitable walking garments after some little debate, swiped out with their Credit cards on the post by the front path, and pursued the pavement towards the river.
They nodded amiably towards the guard cameras as they went.
London was quiet; Horatio and Vicki were quiet. “It’ll be all right
darling; I just feel it will.”
“I know . . . It’s not the fear of dying or anything . . . I just don’t feel ready to stop my work: we’ve nearly got the whole scheme ready; Credit, sites, structures, workforce; the complete Transitional Habitation programme . . . “
“But it’s only six months; you’ll be able to pick it up straight
after . . . “
“Look at Dick: he’s never recovered; never talks about his Service. They’ve put him in the Supplies department. I went down there recently; saw him playing the guitar!”
“Sounds quite nice . . . “ smiling.
As they turned the corner, they happened upon a person breaking into a carriage.
“Here we go, Vicki” said Horatio, as he encoded his communicator: Police sticker issued, stuck to his coat, dashing to apprehend the perp.
Un-expected in this neighbourhood, where Police-Actioners are rare, the perp was caught easily.
“Stop in the name of the law!” called PC Rat. The perp looked up in surprise, dropped tool, turned to run; but Vicki, also badged-up, arm-locked him. Caught, fast.
Horatio called Control to have him picked up, and filled in the Crime Report while they waited. Vicki counselled the perp.
“Poor chap” said Vicki, as they strolled on, “he had lost all his Credit. He said he just wanted to get some things out of the carriage; that it had been his own earlier today.”
“Some people just can’t seem to manage their Credit; I can’t understand it.”
“He mentioned a bug; he said it wasn’t his fault.”
“I didn’t think bugs could affect Credit.”
“I’ve heard rumours they can.”
They walked on across Putney Bridge, where the view by night seemed the same as ever: a mass of lights cutting a beautiful swathe down the Thames. That’s water for you. And the stars: the same, the same.
Horatio’s communicator vibrated gently against his stomach: “A call.” They stopped, and watched the screen in his hand to see who it was. No image. Instead of the usual face of the caller, a terse message stated : ‘Landline Communication: premium rates apply’
“It’s Dave!” Horatio accepted his brother’s call, to hear a crackly voice: “Sorry to call you so late. We’re coming to London tomorrow; can we stop over at your place?”
Horatio glanced at Victoria’s agreement; “Of course, Dave. How are you both? It’ll be great to see you; but you’ll have to put up with me rushing off early on Wednesday; I’ve been called up!”
“They got you, did they? Perhaps we’ll see you down on the
farm . . . water’s rising fast in the valley . . . “
“A rat up a drain pipe” mused Horatio absently, but too late.
“It’s definitely you!” chuckled Dave. “See you tomorrow. Bye Vicki.”
Up came the terse messenger: ‘Remember your Points bonus for converting a landline user . . . ‘ but the rat had run before the poet could flower. He and Vicki looked at one another smiling: “So the bumpkin is coming to town.” “With his pumpkin” ho ho. They kissed, and went home to bed after an eventful day!