Douglas Kennedy: Woman in the Fifth

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Douglas Kennedy Woman in the Fifth
  • Название:
    Woman in the Fifth
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    Arrow Books
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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Woman in the Fifth: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Douglas Kennedy's new novel demonstrates once again his talent for writing serious popular fiction. and were both bestsellers in paperback. That was the year my life fell apart, and that was the year I moved to Paris. When Harry Ricks arrives in Paris on a bleak January morning he is a broken man. He is running away from a failed marriage and a dark scandal that ruined his career as a film lecturer in a small American university. With no money and nowhere to live, Harry swiftly falls in with the city's underclass, barely scraping a living while trying to finish the book he'd always dreamed of writing. A chance meeting with a mysterious woman, Margit Kadar, with whom Harry falls in love, is his only hope of a brighter future. However, Margit isn't all she seems to be and Harry soon has to make a decision that will alter his life forever.

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Oh Jesus, I’d been asleep since …

My mouth was parched, toxic. I swallowed and tasted bile. My neck was rigid, nearly immobile. I touched my shirt. It was soaked through with sweat. Ditto my face. I put my fingers to my forehead. Intense heat radiated from my brow. I put my feet on the floor and tried to stand up. I didn’t succeed. Every corner of my body now ached. My body temperature plunged — the tropical fever turning into a near-Arctic chill. My knees caved a bit as I attempted to stand up again, but I managed some sort of forward propulsion that moved me out of the aisle toward the door.

Everything got a little blurry once I hit the lobby. I remember negotiating my way out past the box office, then moving into a maze of walkways, then finding the elevator, then getting disgorged on to the street. But I didn’t want to be on the street. I wanted to be in the metro. So why had I gone up when I should have gone down?

A smell hit my nose: fast-food grease. Check that: fast-food grease goes Middle East. I had emerged near a collection of cheap cafes. Opposite me was a tubby guy, deep-frying felafels at an outdoor stand. Next to him, on a rotating spit, was a blackened, half-carved leg of lamb. It was flecked with varicose veins (do lambs get varicose veins?). Beneath the lamb were slices of pizzas that looked like penicillin cultures. They provoked nausea at first glance. Aided by the felafel fumes, I felt as if I was about to be very sick. A moment later, I was very sick. I doubled over and heaved, the vomit hitting my shoes. Somewhere during my retch, a waiter in a cafe opposite me started shouting — something about being a pig and driving away his custom. I offered no reply, no explanation. I just lurched away, my vision fogged in, but somehow focused on the plastic ventilation shafts of the Pompidou Center in the immediate distance. Halfway there, I got lucky — a cab pulled up in front of a little hotel that was in the line of my stagger. As the passengers got out, I got in. I managed to give the driver the address of the Select. Then I slumped across the seat, the fever reasserting itself again.

The ride back was a series of blackouts. One moment, I was in a dark netherworld; the next, the driver was engaged in an extended rant about how my vomit-splattered shoes were stinking up his cab. Blackout. More hectoring from the driver. Blackout. A traffic jam — all spectral yellow automotive lights prismed through rain-streaked windows. Blackout. More yellow light and the driver continuing his rant — now something about people who block the taxi lanes, how he never picked up North Africans if he could help it, and how he would certainly steer clear of me if he ever saw me again on the street. Blackout. A door was opening. A hand was helping me out of the car. A voice whispered gently into my ear, telling me to hand over twelve euros. I did as ordered, reaching into my pocket for my money clip. There was some dialogue in the background. I stood up, leaning against the cab for ballast. I looked up at the sky and felt rain. My knees buckled. I began to fall.


And then I was in a bed. And my eyes were being pierced by a beam of light. With a click, the light snapped off. As my vision regained focus I saw that there was a man seated in a chair beside me, a stethoscope suspended around his neck. Behind him stood another figure — but he seemed lost in the encroaching shadows. My sleeve was being rolled up and daubed with something moist. There was a sharp telltale stab as a needle plunged into my arm.



THERE WAS A light shining in my eyes again. But it wasn’t a piercing beam like the last time. No, this was morning light; a stark, single shaft landing on my face and bringing me back to …

Where am I exactly?

It took a moment or two for the room to come into definition. Four walls. A ceiling. Well, that was a start. The walls were papered blue. A plastic lamp was suspended from the ceiling. It was colored blue. I glanced downward. The carpet on the floor was blue. I forced myself to sit up. I was in a double bed. The sheets — soaked with my sweat — were blue. The candlewick bedspread — flecked with two cigarette burns — was blue. The headboard of the bed was upholstered in a matching baby blue. This is one of those LSD flashbacks, right? A payback for my one and only experiment with hallucinogenics in 1982 …

There was a table next to the bed. It was not blue. (All right, I’m not totally flipping here.) On it was a bottle of water and assorted packets of pills. Nearby was a small desk. A laptop was on top of it. My laptop. There was a narrow metal chair by the desk. It had a blue seat. (Oh no, it’s starting again.) My blue jeans and blue sweater were draped across it. There was a small wardrobe — laminated in the same fake wood as the bedside table and the desk. It was open — and suspended from its hangers were the few pairs of trousers and shirts and the one jacket I’d shoved into a suitcase two days ago when …

Was it two days ago? Or, more to the point, what day was it now? And how had I been unpacked into this blue room? And if there’s one color I hate, it’s azure. And …

There was a knock on the door. Without waiting for a reply from me, a man walked in, carrying a tray. His face was familiar.

Bonjour,‘ he said crisply. ‘Voici le petit dejeuner.’

‘Thanks,’ I mumbled back in French.

‘They told me you have been sick.’

‘Have I?’

He put the tray down on the bed. His face registered with me. He was the desk clerk who sent me packing when I arrived at that hotel …

No, this hotel. The Select. Where you told the cabbie to bring you last night after you …

It was all starting to make sense.

‘That is what Adnan said in his note.’

‘Who is Adnan?’ I asked.

‘The night clerk.’

‘I don’t remember meeting him.’

‘He obviously met you.’

‘How sick was I?’

‘Sick enough to not remember how sick you were. But that is just an assumption, as I wasn’t here. The doctor who treated you is returning this afternoon at five. All will be revealed then. But that depends on whether you will still be here this afternoon. I put through payment for tomorrow, monsieur, thinking that, in your “condition”, you would want to keep the room. But your credit card was not accepted. Insufficient funds.’

This didn’t surprise me. My Visa card was all but maxed out and I’d checked in, knowing that I had just enough credit remaining to squeeze out, at most, two nights here, and that there were no funds to clear the long-overdue bill. But the news still spooked me. Because it brought me back to the depressing realpolitik of my situation: everything has gone awry, and I now find myself shipwrecked in a shitty hotel far away from home …

But how can you talk about ‘home’ when it no longer exists, when, like everything else, it has been taken away from you?

‘Insufficient funds?’ I said, trying to sound bemused. ‘How can that be?’

How can that be? ‘ he asked coolly. ‘It just is.’

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