The Weighing of the Heart, by Paul Tudor Owen, has undercurrents of romance, crime thriller, and dark mystery, yet it defies the conventions of each of these genres. The author’s deft touch in presenting his protagonist’s thoughts and actions encourages questions about reasoning and veracity – glimpses into the shadows of mostly ordinary behaviour.
The story opens with a statement I disagreed with – something that turned out to be a valid reaction.
“Sooner or later, everybody comes to New York”
Thus we are introduced to Nick Braeburn, a self-centred yet apparently likeable English artist who has made his home in America. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend, Hannah. Through a fortuitous set of circumstances he is offered a compact room in the well located home of wealthy sisters, Marie and Rose Peacock. Nick is looking back on this period of his life, narrating what happened. The voice employed is vaguely regretful.
The elderly but socially lively Peacock sisters own a number of properties in the city. One of their tenants is another artist, Lydia, who rents a tiny apartment next to the Peacocks’ generous space. Lydia has recently separated from her husband, Hector. The sisters view this development with regret.
Early on Nick explains why he came to New York City.
“What appealed to me about New York was what appealed to me about art itself – it was a place where I could pretend that the gloomy half-light of my hometown, the exhausted indistinguishable streets stretching out endlessly into the void, had quite simply never existed; where I could decide who I was and who I wanted to be and nobody would ever be able to challenge it.”
To reinvent himself in this way requires funds which he sets out to acquire by whatever means necessary. Although capable of empathy – he intuits when he breaks simple if unspecified house rules – he appears to lack certain moral boundaries. If an opportunity presents itself he has no scruples about following through to gain personal advantage.
Nick observes Lydia as she goes about her day to day activities and, over time, they become friends. Growing more at home in the sisters’ apartment, occasional behaviours he briefly mentions appear out of kilter. Casual actions raise questions but so slight as to leave a residue of doubt that something may be amiss. Was I looking for intrigue where none existed?
Lydia meets Hannah; Nick meets Hector; Lydia is offered opportunities in her artistic career. Warnings flash briefly as jealousy raises its ugly head.
The art created by both Nick and Lydia is inspired by stories and beliefs from Ancient Egypt. These affect Nick particularly. He looks out for his ba and is calmed by his scarab. He is disturbed by the appearance of bees – the tears of a king.
Nick’s behaviour remains elusive despite his good fortune in so many areas.
The various threads and suggestions are woven together with just enough occasional background to provide explanation. The taut prose and skillfully employed metaphors add to the lure and tension.
Cleverly constructed and hard to put down, this was an intriguing and satisfying read. I will be recommending it widely.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.
The Weighing of the Heart is published by Obliterati Press.